The Twins anticipate scaling back player payroll this offseason, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey told reporters at the GM Meetings (link via Bobby Nightengale of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune). The Twins opened the 2023 season with an estimated $154MM figure, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts — about $20MM north of the previous organizational high.
“We’ve pushed our payroll to heights that we had never pushed it before with the support, certainly, of ownership,” Falvey said Tuesday. “We know there is some natural ebb and flow to that. Will it be where it was last year? I don’t expect that. I expect it less than that.”
Unsurprisingly, Minnesota’s front office leader declined to go on record with a specific spending target. However, Dan Hayes of the Athletic reports that the Opening Day number could land somewhere between $125MM and $140MM.
It’s not entirely surprising, as Falvey had alluded to a potential spending cut last month. At the time, he pointed to the club’s uncertain local television rights fees amidst the ongoing bankruptcy of Diamond Sports Group, the corporation that runs the Bally Sports networks. The Twins are one of 14 teams that had an agreement with Diamond. Minnesota is still without a resolution on its 2024 in-market broadcasts, as its previous local rights deal expired at the end of the season.
Nevertheless, it’ll be disappointing news for a fanbase just a month removed from celebrating an AL Central title and the end of an 18-game postseason losing streak. The Twins have a little over $90MM in guaranteed commitments after exercising options on Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco to start the offseason. MLBTR’s Matt Swartz projects around $20MM in salaries for the group of arbitration-eligible players. Minimum salary players to fill out the roster bring their current projection to roughly $120MM.
However, that includes a $6.6MM arbitration projection for potential non-tender candidate Kyle Farmer. Hayes writes that Minnesota plans to explore trade possibilities on Farmer, who had a solid first year in Minneapolis. Acquired from the Reds last winter, he hit .256/.317/.408 over 369 trips to the plate. While that’s quality production for a multi-positional infielder, Minnesota got even better play out of minor league signee Willi Castro.
The Twins also have Polanco as an option to bounce between second and third base, which are likely to be manned by Edouard Julien and Royce Lewis to begin the year. With Castro and Nick Gordon also on hand, Farmer could find himself on the outside looking in. If the Twins can’t find a trade partner, they’d need to decide by November 17 whether to tender him a contract.
Of course, Polanco or Kepler could be trade possibilities themselves. Nothing prevents Minnesota from dealing either player after exercising the option. While Polanco is part of a crowded infield, Kepler is one of a number of left-handed hitting outfielders. They’re both key contributors to the lineup, so the Twins don’t figure to give either player away. They’d each have appeal were Minnesota to put them on the trade market, however. That’s especially true of Polanco, who is arguably better than any middle infielder in this winter’s free agent class and controllable for an additional season via a $12MM option for 2025.
As things stand, Minnesota could fall into the reported $125-140MM range without moving anyone off the big league roster. They’d be without much flexibility for outside acquisitions and are facing the departures of a few notable free agents. Sonny Gray is a lock to decline the qualifying offer in search of a multi-year deal worth upwards of $20MM annually, a price that’s difficult to see the Twins matching unless they move multiple players. Kenta Maeda, Michael A. Taylor, Emilio Pagán, Tyler Mahle and Donovan Solano all also hit the market. Taylor could be a particularly tough loss if the Twins aren’t confident in Byron Buxton manning center field regularly next season.
The rotation could be in solid shape even if none of Gray, Maeda or Mahle return. Pablo López, Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober and Chris Paddack is a strong front four, while Louie Varland has upside at the back end. The group would be a lot thinner without Gray and Maeda, however, making it difficult to repeat their AL-best production of this past season. It stands to reason they’d like to bring in at least one veteran arm to stabilize things — either in a trade or via free agency after reallocating some money.