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11/08/11 2:00 PM EST

Payroll in mind, Ryan makes Twins' FAs priority

Newly appointed interim GM frank about club's work this winter

MINNEAPOLIS -- Sitting between Twins owner Jim Pohlad and club president Dave St. Peter at Monday's news conference, newly appointed interim general manager Terry Ryan wasn't shy when talking about the projected payroll for next season.

Ryan, replacing Bill Smith after serving as his senior advisor for the last four years, said he estimates payroll to be around $100 million for the 2012 season, which is a drop from last year's Opening Day figure of $113 million.

"I think our payroll is going to be south of where we were last year," said Ryan, who served as Minnesota's GM from 1994-2007. "I'm not a big payroll figure guy. It's not bothersome to me. Whatever it is, it's going to be a heck of a lot more than I ever worked with."

Given that the Twins have roughly $80-83 million in payroll obligations depending on what happens with their arbitration-eligible players next month, the club will have about $20 million to spend this offseason.

Ryan knows he has plenty of work to do -- and in a hurry, considering free agency already started on Thursday -- but insisted the timing of replacing Smith more than a month into the offseason won't negatively affect their status in regards to free agency.

"We aren't behind," Ryan said. "I know Rob Antony and Bill have already been on the phone with free agents in the days since they've declared. It hasn't been very long and only like three free agents have signed. So there's certainly plenty of time for us to get in the mix for free agents."

Ryan said his first priority is to reach out to the team's four free agents -- Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Joe Nathan and Matt Capps -- to get a feel for what's needed to bring them back. He added it's part of the research he needs to do regarding the budget to figure out if it's realistic to bring any of the four back.

"We had four players file for free agency, so I think it's safe to say I have to talk to them and their agents pretty quickly," Ryan said. "All four guys were impactful players in this organization. Cuddyer has been with us in our organization since 1997, Capps was huge for us two years ago but struggled last year, Nathan has been a premier closer and Kubel is the type of offense we're trying to bring with us to score more runs and he's been with us since high school. I think it's apparent I should talk to my own before I talk to anybody else."

Re-signing Cuddyer remains one of the Twins' top priorities, but given the expected decrease in payroll and heavy interest from teams such as the Phillies, there remains no guarantee he'll be back. But Pohlad wouldn't rule it out, saying it'll be up to Ryan to see if he fits in the club's offseason plans.

"I love Michael Cuddyer," Pohlad said. "But we want to win, so if Terry convinces us that he's part of that, and we can win, then he'll be back -- assuming Michael agrees with it."

Ryan said he also expects to take a hard look at other free agents to help fix a club that lost 99 games last year. Smith had indicated earlier in the offseason that the team was looking to add a starting pitcher, a middle infielder, a backup catcher and bullpen help.

"We're going to be looking for good players," Ryan said. "Some are going to be realistic and some aren't. ... Some players won't have much interest in coming here. Some will relish the fact that they can come here. This isn't exactly the year that we're coming off of 94 wins that everybody's going to want to come to Minnesota. We've got some issues. Players know that."

But Ryan said it helps that's been around the organization the last four years as a senior advisor and scout, and he's plugged in to what needs to change to turn around the club after a disastrous 2011 campaign.

There's also plenty of continuity as top assistants Mike Radcliff and Antony will remain in their current roles, while former Twins assistant GM Wayne Krivsky is returning in a similar capacity as an assistant to the general manager and a professional scout. Smith has also been offered a new role in baseball operations, but isn't expected to make a decision about his future for another four to six weeks.

"I'm certainly up to speed about everything that's going on in the baseball department," Ryan said. "I was a piece of the organizational meetings and the conference calls and all the things that Bill put together. Actually, the last four years I've been out scouting more than probably at the Major League games, but I'm up to speed on what's going on with the roster.

"We've got a lot of work to do in the next month, certainly. GM Meetings are coming up, free agency is upon us already, 40-man roster and the Winter Meetings, arbitration -- all the stuff that comes with the offseason. But I think we have people intact here that we can get this thing going back the way it was prior to the 2011 season."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.