SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — Derek Falvey, the Twins' president of baseball operations, hinted at a payroll reduction for the 2024 season at an end-of-season news conference and he confirmed it Tuesday at the general managers meetings.
What it means for the club's immediate offseason plans: Sonny Gray is likely to depart in free agency and the Twins probably will have to make trades to rework their roster.
The Twins already have around $125 million committed to next season's roster, which excludes their eight free agents and does not include the one-year qualifying offer the team extended to Gray, which Gray is expected to reject by next week's deadline. The current payroll figure could be near the upper range of the Twins' preferred budget, limiting their ability to sign free agents without making other moves.
"If we've established one thing about our past, it's that we're going to see creative ways to improve the roster," Falvey said.
Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler and Kyle Farmer highlight the list of trade candidates because of their salaries and the organization's depth. The Twins picked up club options for Polanco ($10.5 million) and Kepler ($10 million) last week, but they'll generate trade interest. It's a weak class for free agent second basemen, and Polanco might be ticketed for a super utility role with the Twins next year after the emergence of Edouard Julien at second base. Brooks Lee, a top prospect at Class AAA, is another switch-hitting infielder.
Kepler was a part of trade rumors last winter. If the Twins parted with Kepler, which isn't a sure thing after they showed how much they valued him last year, Matt Wallner and Trevor Larnach are lined up to become the primary corner outfielders. Willi Castro started 64 games in the outfield last season, too.
Farmer could command around $7 million through arbitration, which is a luxury for any team as a backup infielder. Farmer is versatile, hits lefties well and is a great clubhouse presence, but the Twins have Nick Gordon, who will be out of minor league options, available at a lower salary and they're expected to add Class AAA utility man Austin Martin to their 40-man roster next week. If the Twins don't trade Farmer at his projected salary, he's a candidate to be released.
"We're going to give a lot of opportunity to a lot of young players that obviously stepped up for us this year, but hopefully will grow into roles for years to come," Falvey said. "I think we're open-minded to different ways of reworking our roster."
The Twins still have areas on the roster they want to add. Center field might be at the top of the list, although they're hoping Byron Buxton will play in center next season after he underwent offseason knee surgery.
"In some ways, we want to find complementary parts that work with our roster because we do think at every position, we already have a lot of guys that can fit that role," Falvey said. "Who could complement it is how we're going to play it out from there."
The Twins had enviable starting pitching depth at the start of last season with Bailey Ober and Louie Varland beginning the year at Class AAA. Assuming Gray departs in free agency, the Twins won't have the same type of front-line pitching punch.
Pablo López is the staff's ace, but they'll be counting on Chris Paddack to make a major impact after he recovered from Tommy John surgery. Paddack, who pitched well out of the bullpen in the Twins' playoff run, hasn't thrown more than 109 innings in a season since 2019.
Ober and Joe Ryan showed flashes this year of becoming true No. 2 or No. 3 starters in a rotation, but they'll need to become more consistent.
Pitching is one of the deeper areas of the free agent market, but almost all teams want to add pitching. Agent Scott Boras said all healthy starting pitchers are generating interest from at least 10 teams, including free agent Kenta Maeda, and several teams told him they want to add two or more starters this winter.
"In some years, you're never going to have the perfect seven, eight, nine guys when you start the year," Falvey said. "You hope you stay healthy enough. You hope you add some minor league free agents that fit. You hope you develop some young kids, the David Festas of the world, that are on that path. You hope all of those groups work well together. I would say, at this stage, we're going to certainly look at that market, but we won't be alone."
Festa, a righthanded starter, was 4-4 with a 4.19 ERA between Class AA Wichita and Class AAA St. Paul and is ranked the Twins' No. 9 prospect by mlb.com.
Quality depth defined the Twins during the 2023 season on their way to a division title. With a drop in payroll, that's the area that might be affected the most.
"When we walk into the season, we expect that there will be some uncertainty on the roster," Falvey said. "That's the nature of every offseason, but I feel really good about the group that we're already walking in with. We can find ways to upgrade it and we'll continue to try and do so."