Until Aaron Nola signed a seven-year, $172 million contract with the Phillies on Sunday, it was a relatively quiet start to Major League Baseball's offseason.
The beginning of the Twins' winter, after claiming their first postseason series in 21 years, started with President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey confirming the club will lower its payroll for the upcoming season. The Twins carried a club-record payroll above $155 million this year, and indications are it could drop by about $30 million, which will likely lead to some trades to create some payroll flexibility.
The Twins already have about $125 million committed toward their roster for the upcoming season, which makes players such as Jorge Polanco, Kyle Farmer, Max Kepler and Christian Vázquez trade candidates.
Onto the mailbag:
If/when the Twins land a new broadcast/streaming deal, will that change the math on how much they're willing to spend in free agency? Or are Falvey's comments just assuming a deal won't affect it much regardless? — @JohnLanoVoice
The expiration of the Twins' TV contract with Diamond Sports Group, Bally Sports North's parent company, is a factor for the Twins shedding payroll, but it's not the only reason they're cutting back. Falvey said there is a "natural ebb and flow" when payroll is pushed to a club-record level, so they were already looking at reducing it.
Diamond Sports paid the Twins $54.8 million during the 2023 season, and it's difficult to imagine a new broadcast/streaming deal that would pay them that much up front. Their next TV deal should make them much more available on cable and satellite providers, and there will likely be a direct-to-consumer option without blackouts, but the TV landscape changed a lot since the Twins agreed to their last TV deal in 2011.
Falvey said he didn't have a set number for next year's payroll, and it can evolve during an offseason — the Twins didn't expect Carlos Correa to sign with them twice — but it'll be a significant reduction regardless of how their TV plans shake out.
Would the Twins be willing to defer payroll (backload contracts) to keep the chance of signing big free agent contracts? — @beastModeRocco
The short answer is no. The Twins have long-term contracts on their books with Correa and Byron Buxton locked up for the next five seasons, and Pablo López's salary will jump from $8 million for the 2024 season to $21.5 million for 2025-27. Plus, guys such as Royce Lewis, Bailey Ober, Joe Ryan and Jhoan Duran are on the path to becoming eligible for arbitration next offseason, which will raise their salaries.
For the free-agent players who receive offers from multiple teams, it doesn't benefit them to backload their contract either.
The Twins finally win a playoff series and the Pohlads' first decision is to slash payroll. One week after we crowned a World Series champion, the Twins make their announcements. The optics of this are so bad. We should be adding payroll to win a second round and winning a World Series. It's like the organization is satisfied with winning the 1st round of playoffs. — Tim, via email
It's not the message any team wants to send to a fan base after some playoff success, but cutting payroll is a reality for the Twins and other teams around the league. There are reports the Padres will cut payroll by about $50 million. The Mets have been cutting back since the trade deadline. In the American League Central, the White Sox are lowering payroll and the Guardians showed they may be trimming payroll after trading starter Cal Quantrill.
There are a lot of other teams who will be affected by the Diamond Sports bankruptcy because the TV company is planning to terminate all its TV deals by next September, which would affect NBA and NHL teams too.
As for the optics, payroll was a question that would have dominated the offseason because of the TV situation. There had been rumblings about the Twins cutting their 2024 payroll during the second half of the season, and executives from other teams privately said they expected it to drop before Falvey confirmed it publicly.
The Twins' current roster leaves them in good shape compared to most teams that must cut payroll. There are areas they'd like to upgrade, but there aren't glaring holes. Outside of Sonny Gray, the rest of their free agents are primarily depth options.
Who are some free agents the Twins have checked in on and specifically with the bullpen, which relievers may the Twins target this offseason? — @KarterKudrna33
One agent who met with the Twins at the General Managers Meetings expected them to explore the trade market before they seriously pursued free agents. If the Twins create payroll flexibility or fill a roster need through a trade, it'll affect their free-agent targets.
It's always hard to assess free-agent relievers because most of them sign one-year contracts closer to spring training. If the Twins have a tight budget, they're more likely to spend it on a center fielder or first baseman than a reliever. Don't be surprised if the Twins address their bullpen by acquiring relievers through trades.
What do you think are the Twins' plan for Randy Dobnak? They're locked into spending money on him for a few more years. He's obviously on the back burner or even off the stove and putting him in the bullpen was a mistake. Was his contract a bust? — John, via email
The plan is to keep him on the St. Paul Saints pitching staff. The Star Tribune's Phil Miller summed up his 2024 outlook in a story last month: "Making set-for-life money while becoming one of most popular Saints ever."
The contract is a sunk cost. There is always some risk when giving a player a contract extension, and this one backfired on the Twins.
Are you hearing buzz about members of the coaching staff getting offers from other teams? What sense do you have about the Twins' plans for Louie Varland and how they view him in the pitching pecking order? — @PaulWall612651
There wasn't any buzz about a coach being plucked by another team as recently as last week, but some teams are still working through their coaching staffs after hiring managers. The Angels checked if Torii Hunter wanted to serve as a coach on Ron Washington's staff, but he declined.
The Twins will likely have Varland begin the season as a starter. He's viewed as their No. 5 starter now, and he'll probably be a part of some competition in spring training. The Twins loved how he looked out of the bullpen in September, and they can move him back there if he struggles as a starter in 2024, but they'll need him as starting depth.