MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Limited player movement across Major League Baseball this offseason has been no more pronounced than in Minnesota, where the defending AL Central champion Twins have so far claimed a couple of players off waivers and signed a middle reliever coming off an injury.
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Free agents have largely felt no rush in recent years, but a major factor in this quiet offseason appears to be uncertainty around regional broadcast revenue.
The Twins are among 11 teams who've had nearly all of their games on the Bally Sports networks, whose parent company went into bankruptcy last year. Amazon recently announced it will partner with the Diamond Sports Group in the reformation process, but with spring training less than three weeks away the urgency for clubs like the Twins is clear.
“It remains a fluid situation,” said team president Dave St. Peter, who described himself as “incredibly optimistic” about being able to announce soon what platform Twins games will be broadcast on in 2024.
In the meantime, the front office has had to play it cool. After fielding a club-record payroll that was $164 million heading into the postseason, fueled by shortstop Carlos Correa's $200 million, six-year contract, the Twins produced their first postseason series victory since 2002. But the wariness around the regional television situation has prompted a reduction in player salary costs.
Starting pitchers Sonny Gray (St. Louis), Kenta Maeda (Detroit) and Tyler Mahle (Texas) and reliever Emilio Pagán (Cincinnati) all departed as free agents for deals that average $14 million annually. Gray got the biggest contract: three years for $75 million.
The good news for the Twins is they had a healthy stable of starting pitching depth. They also had rookies Royce Lewis, Edouard Julien and Matt Wallner emerge as key regulars — and in the case of Lewis, a potential superstar — midway through the season.
“I think we have an excellent group, period. As of right now we have a team that is an equal or better team than we had last year coming out of camp,” manager Rocco Baldelli said Friday before the team's annual fan festival at Target Field. “The focus shouldn’t be on the couple of players that we currently don’t have that we ended the season with.”
Pablo López, Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober, Chris Paddack and Louie Varland will likely enter camp next month as the starting five. The Twins can be quite confident in that quintet, even after losing the other three. What they could use now is another viable option or two in case of the inevitable injuries. Because of the price of starting pitching on the open market, that's likely to be accomplished via trade.
Another reason the Twins believe in their ability to maintain the momentum they built last year is the health of center fielder Byron Buxton. Yes, center fielder.
After what turned out to be false hope of him contributing on defense during yet another injury-shrouded season while Buxton was relegated to designated hitter duty, he's been enjoying a winter without restriction and on track to become a two-way player again.
“He’s pain free, so that’s where I want to be,” Baldelli said.
Having Buxton regularly available to play center field opens up so many more avenues to strengthen the daily lineup, when he's not occupying the DH spot.
“No setbacks. Everything has gone according to what we hoped the plan would look like,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. 'So when you ask why I have more confidence today than I do a year ago, it’s because we were still waiting to see how he was going to be. This year I feel like he’s further along in that process.”
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