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Upbeat Twins owner Jim Pohlad has lots to say but stays mum on the Mauer issue

Pleased with the team’s new makeup, Pohlad stressed that qualifying for postseason alone was no longer good enough for an organization that has lost five consecutive playoff series since 2002.

Those of you who hated to see the Twins trade Carlos Gomez to Milwaukee have a brother-in-arms whose identity may surprise you.

It’s the owner.

“My favorite player left, so I’m still recovering from that,” Jim Pohlad said wryly Monday morning during his second annual pre-spring sitdown with Twins beat writers. “We kind of kid about it, but I liked Carlos Gomez.”

Pohlad mixed moments of levity and seriousness in his 40-minute session in the glass-walled conference room named for his father, Carl, at Target Field, overlooking the field and the gently falling snow. Twins Sports Inc. President Jerry Bell, who joined Pohlad and club President Dave St. Peter Monday, said the meeting space originally was planned to be the owner’s office. But Jim, whose business office is a few blocks away, declined the space — a decision he might be regretting.

“I wish I had an office here and could just sit here and look out all day, because it’s just cool,” he said.

Aesthetics aside, Pohlad answered questions about a bunch of pertinent topics, though not the most pertinent. He declined to discuss Joe Mauer’s contract extension talks, abiding by a promise he made to the catcher and his agent, Ron Shapiro. “We basically gave our word we weren’t going to talk about negotiations,” he said, “and we intend to honor that.”

Jim Pohlad
Minnesota Twins
Jim Pohlad

Pohlad did say the Twins are opposed to deferred compensation in any deal (more on that later). And though the Twins expect to lose a significant chunk of revenue-sharing money from Major League Baseball in 2011, Pohlad said Target Field revenues should allow the Twins’ payroll to remain in the $95 million range beyond this season.

“We’re not going to spend the money just to spend the money,” he said. “It wouldn’t hurt if it dropped below, in my opinion, occasionally. But we’re going to try to put the best team on the field in the most prudent financial way. I think we accomplished that this year. At least on paper, we’re getting our money’s worth.”

The Twins expect a big bump in revenue from increased ticket prices, suite sales and concessions. At the Metrodome, the Twins got nothing from suites and only 25 percent of concessions. At Target Field, all the suite and concession revenue is theirs.

Just how large a piece of revenue sharing the Twins receive now, and how much they stand to lose next year, is unknown. Major League Baseball does not release figures, and Twins officials won’t talk about it. According to The New York Times, the club received an average of $20 million a year from 2003 to 2008. “It shrinks a lot, but we’ll still be eligible for something,” Bell said.

Pohlad grimaced when asked about the club’s notorious tight-fistedness, which reflects back to his billionaire father, who died last year. Pohlad said the club followed through on its pledge to expand payroll in the new ballpark.
“We’re not trying to show people,” he said. “We’re trying to do what we said we were going to do, and that is, do in relation to revenue. We should have a significant revenue increase as a result.

“We have some additional financial obligations as a result of Target Field — interest, etc. — and we have to make sure we take that into consideration. But the revenue forecast and model look optimistic, and sustainable. All new ballparks have their peaks. I’m sure the initial years will be very good to the Twins. It will be up to us to sustain it after that. The ballpark itself, I think, can sustain it for a long time, because it should be a great experience for fans forever.”

So what about the on-field product? Pohlad said he’s excited about new acquisitions J.J. Hardy, Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson. He praised general manager Bill Smith’s diligence, while adding he did not order Smith to shake up the roster.

“We had some really dark years in the ’90s, and those are like the perfect storm of negative stuff happening,” he said. “Sometimes the opposite happens, too. Sometimes things click. A lot of seeds that were planted come to harvest at the same time. There was no sitting around a table like this saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got to start making things happen.’ It wasn’t that.”

And Pohlad stressed that qualifying for postseason alone was no longer good enough for an organization that has lost five consecutive playoff series since 2002, three of them to the Yankees. He even appeared to guarantee a future world championship, without specifying when.

“I hear that we’ve got to do better, or get better, so that when we face the Yankees (we’re competitive),” he said. “I hope we’re not a team that’s intimidated by the Yankees. I don’t believe we are. I’m personally not intimidated by the Yankees or the Yankee organization. We just need to, every year, get better, so that whoever we face, that we will be able to advance.

 “Teams mature. I don’t know where the core of our team is on the maturity level or the peak level, but I don’t think we’re at peak yet. Our core group of players is still very young. The future is very strong, and we will advance past the first round of the playoffs, into the World Series, and to the White House.”

About deferred compensation: St. Peter said the Twins last did it with Keith Atherton in the 1980s and Terry Steinbach in the 1990s. Pohlad, without addressing the Mauer contract directly, said he opposes it.

“There’s a whole bunch of examples in real life of that kind of stuff, that make you feel real good at the time, and later on you wish you hadn’t done that,” he said.

“You’re just kidding yourself. It’s either going to be somebody else’s problem, or we’ll worry about it later. At that point where you’ve got to worry about it, it affects your current operation. So it’s really not a good thing. You’ve got to pay the money no matter what. You might as well do it when the player’s playing for you.”