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Neal: Why are Twins fans wasting their angst on payroll?

What a surprise. A Pohlad has raised the ire of the fan base by revealing that the Twins will not make a late splash in free agency.

In the most recent case, Executive Chair Joe Pohlad said during a WCCO radio interview Wednesday that it is unlikely that the club would sign one of the top remaining free agents. Doing so would cost anywhere from $15 million to $25 million a year. Lefthander Blake Snell, for instance, reportedly turned down six years and $150 million from the Yankees. Could the Twins land Snell or lefty Jordan Montgomery for a one-year deal at $25 million to $27 million or so, then let that player reenter free agency? I guess we will never know.

The Twins head into a 2024 season in which they are the favorites to win the AL Central. Their offense has upside. The bullpen should be a strength. They are a contender despite the departure of Sonny Gray.

Fans want Pohlad to capitalize on momentum, push in more chips and buy more players. But here's the reality: The Twins warned us all a payroll reduction was coming. Pohlad's latest comments were more of the same. To this latest wave of fan angst, I'll say: Get over it.

The hints that this would be an offseason of fan discontent came late in the 2023 season. I spoke with a Twins official at the time who told me the team hit "the upper limits" of payroll once Carlos Correa re-signed earlier in the year. That was an "uh-oh" moment.

The Twins were well on their way to a division title at the time, with a club-record $156 million payroll. If anything, I felt the success of 2023 would encourage them to add, not subtract. Especially after winning a postseason series for the first time since 2002. I wrote after the season that they should maintain the momentum they built and add to the roster. But it's easy to spend other people's money. Following the end of the season, the Twins let it be known that there was going to be some belt-tightening.

The Twins weren't the only team doing this. Roughly half of the teams in baseball have not added to their 2023 payroll. Part of it stems from the bankruptcy proceedings of Diamond Sports Group, which owns the Bally Sports networks. That wasn't resolved until recent weeks, but teams operated under the assumption that their television revenues would decrease in 2024. The Twins, who received about $54 million in television revenue last season, prepared for a $20 million to $30 million drop.

We don't know the details of what their 2024 television deal contains. I encourage the Twins to let this information slip out somehow since it was a big reason why they pulled back on payroll following a promising season.

We obsess over payroll in baseball unlike in any other sport. Twins fans, in particular. And some of it comes from frustration over the Pohlad family that goes back to the stadium wars of the mid-to-late 1990s and the contraction threat of 2001. I get that. But there were seven teams, including the Cubs and White Sox of the central divisions, who spent more on payroll than the Twins in 2023 and didn't reach the postseason. Spending on top players can improve teams and energize fan bases. It still comes down to making the right baseball decisions. If the Twins decline to spend $25 million on a free agent but invest a fraction of that to maintain a top farm system, it's a worthy trade-off. Stop obsessing over payroll.

The Twins have built a promising lineup based on scouting, drafting and development. They will have just two outsiders in their Opening Day lineup: Correa and Carlos Santana. A chunk of last season's rotation, which included Pablo López, Joe Ryan, Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda, was acquired by dealing players either drafted or signed by the Twins. Prospects also are tradable commodities.

Pohlad on Wednesday didn't say they couldn't trade for more help. Kyle Farmer is good enough to start for most teams. I also believe the Twins realize that their infield of the future includes Brooks Lee at second, and they could make room for that to happen sooner rather than later. And Derek Falvey, the president of baseball operations, doesn't like to sit idle at the trade deadline. There's more than one way to improve a team.

This is a good team. It should be a good season. This despite the Pohlads not landing a Blake Snell. Stop obsessing over payroll.