Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and manager Rocco Baldelli met with the media Friday, speaking with reporters (including Betsy Helfand of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and The Athletic’s Aaron Gleeman) about what the club might be planning heading into the offseason. Minnesota returned to the postseason as AL Central champions and won their first playoff series since 2002, advancing past the Blue Jays before falling to the Astros in the ALDS.
Building that roster came with a higher price tag than usual for the Twins, as their Opening Day payroll of roughly $153.7MM was the largest in franchise history. It isn’t yet clear how much the Twins will be able to spend to address their roster needs, or if they’ll again approach their 2023 expenditures. Since the Twins were one of the 14 teams who had broadcasting contracts with Bally Sports, their TV situation is now up in the air since the Diamond Sports Group (Bally’s parent company) filed for bankruptcy last year, and the Twins haven’t yet found a new broadcasting partner.
“That’s a reality of our offseason. It’s not just for us. It’s for other clubs, too,” Falvey said. “That’s a piece of information we’re going to have to navigate. It’s a factor that there’s lack of clarity on TV revenue. That’s a fact, that’s no secret to anybody. That plays a role (with payroll), just like all of our revenue sources play a role to some degree.”
A good chunk of money is naturally coming off Minnesota’s books in the form of free agents, though Sonny Gray, Kenta Maeda, Michael A. Taylor, and Donovan Solano all played key roles last season and their departures would be felt. Likewise, the Twins could save more money in declining their club options on Jorge Polanco ($10.5MM) or Max Kepler ($10MM), but that creates two more holes to be filled.
As expected, Falvey didn’t share any real detail about whether or not the Twins would look to retain any of these players, speaking in generalities about how they liked their contributions and, more broadly, how the team would explore the possibility of retaining any of the group.
Speaking of Gray in particular, Falvey said “we’ll continue to have dialogue with Sonny, but that process is going to take some time to work through the part of the free agency process that he’s earned. I’m sure he’s going to be respected through this process by a whole host of clubs.”
Since Gray is expected to land one of the larger contracts of any pitcher in this winter’s free agent class, that might lean in favor of a deal with a team other than Minnesota, even though Gray has been open about his affinity for playing in the Twin Cities. Gray will surely receive a qualifying offer from the Twins and is likely to reject the one-year pact, leaving the Twins in position to recoup a compensatory pick if Gray did indeed sign elsewhere.
Maeda seems to be the likelier of the two pitches to re-sign, and Gleeman opines that a deal might be worked out between Maeda and the Twins if the Japanese righty is open to a shorter-term contract. In the event that both Gray and Maeda left, Falvey said he liked the Twins’ remaining rotation options, which arguably already make up a solid starting five in Pablo Lopez, Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober, Louie Varland, and Chris Paddack.
“That’s a good group to start with, but it doesn’t mean we’re not going to think about ways to get better….I would say we’ll see where the process takes us,” Falvey said. The PBO and Baldelli both also mentioned how well Varland pitched as a reliever last year, yet indicated that there’s plenty of time left in the offseason to determine Varland’s 2024 role.
Baldelli “would anticipate” Royce Lewis as Minnesota’s regular third baseman at least heading into spring camp. Despite his ability to play multiple positions, Lewis spent more of his time at the hot corner in 2023, so it makes sense that the Twins would stick with what seems to be working. With Lewis at third base, Carlos Correa at shortstop, Edouard Julien at second, Alex Kirilloff getting most of the first base at-bats, and the versatile Willi Castro and Kyle Farmer around for depth, this might leave Polanco out of playing time, and perhaps out of luck in getting his option exercised.
Kepler’s option is a little more in flux, in part because Byron Buxton’s ability to play center field is still in question after the former Gold Glover underwent another knee procedure. If Buxton is again limited to DH work or can’t play whatsoever, that leaves the Twins likely in search of another center field option if Taylor doesn’t re-sign. If Castro is called upon for at least part-time work in center field, that opens up another hole in the infield picture.