Miguel Sano's career as a Minnesota Twin, a journey that began almost exactly 13 years ago as one of the most promising prospects ever signed by the team and included moments of triumph, frustration, controversy and lots of strikeouts, ended on Monday. The Twins announced that, rather than retaining him for $14 million next season, they will pay the 29-year-old slugger a $2.7 million buyout and allow him to become a free agent.
With the World Series over, baseball's offseason business started in a hurry for major league teams. The Twins were no exception on a day when their standout shortstop Carlos Correa, as anticipated, opted out of his three-year contract and became a free agent.
The Twins also set free pitchers Dylan Bundy and Chris Archer, declining options that would have paid them $11 million and $10 million, respectively. The veteran starters, who combined to start 54 games but averaged fewer than five innings per game, will also receive buyouts, Bundy $1 million and Archer $750,000.
The pair failed to revive their declining careers, Bundy leading the team in runs and home runs allowed in 140 total innings, Archer leading the Twins in walks despite pitching only 102⅔ innings.
But Sonny Gray, who posted the lowest ERA by a Twins starter since Johan Santana departed more than a decade ago, received word on his 33rd birthday Monday that he will return for a second season. The Twins activated the option clause in Gray's contract, paying him $12.7 million for the 2023 season, his 10th in the major leagues.
None of the four decisions was a surprise. But unlike the three pitchers, each of whom has been in Minnesota's organization for only one year, Sano's departure carries some history with it. Sano, who surprised the baseball world by turning down the Pirates, his longtime suitors, and signing a $3.15 million contract with the Twins as a 16-year-old shortstop on Oct. 9, 2009, was long considered one of the cornerstones of the Twins' baseball future.
Sano's arrival in the major leagues along with Byron Buxton in 2015 energized a franchise that had suffered four consecutive dismal seasons of 70 wins or fewer, and the rookies helped deliver an 83-79 record. Sano slugged 18 home runs in half a season, leading the Twins with an OPS of .916 and finishing third in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
Two seasons later, Sano was an All-Star third baseman, ripping a two-out fifth-inning single to drive home future teammate Jonathan Schoop with the first run in the AL's 2-1 victory in Miami. Perhaps more memorable was his performance one night earlier, when Sano advanced to the finals of the Home Run Derby, outslugging Mike Moustakas and Gary Sanchez in the first two rounds before being beaten by Aaron Judge 11-10.
Over the course of his career, Sano was a loud, boisterous voice in the Twins clubhouse but also a frequent source of controversy, first on the field as the Twins tried to settle on a position for him, trying third base, right field and first base. Off the field, Sano was accused of assault in 2018 by a photographer, who said he forcibly tried to kiss her at a Twin Cities mall in 2015, an accusation Sano denied. MLB conducted an investigation but declined to suspend him for the incident.
The following offseason, Sano was arrested in the Dominican Republic for allegedly running over the foot of a police officer who was investigating why the vehicle he was driving had no license plates. Those charges were eventually dropped.
Sano's weight was an annual subject of speculation, and his plate discipline was an annual target for improvement, but the Twins, hoping his power production would continue to rise, signed him to a three-year, $30 million contract extension shortly before spring training in 2020. He hit 13 homers in the shortened pandemic season, and 30 more in 2021, but a knee injury ruined his 2022 season. Sano appeared in only 20 games, all but three of them in April, and batted just .083 with one home run.
Sano's 162 home runs as a Twin rank 11th in team history, and his .482 slugging percentage is eighth-best. But his 1,042 strikeouts are second-most behind Harmon Killebrew, who played more than three times as many games as Sano. In 2021, Sano became the fastest big-leaguer to reach 1,000 strikeouts, doing so in only 661 career games.