When it comes to perceptions about the Twins and how they operate in free agency, there are two narratives that sometimes compete with each other and sometime seem intertwined.
First, there is the idea that the Twins won’t spend big. Second, there is the idea that big-time free agents don’t want to sign here because they prefer larger markets and/or warmer year-round climates.
There is merit to both notions, frankly. Exactly a year ago, as luck would have it, I wrote extensively about the Twins payroll as a percentage of revenue, how it has fallen short of their stated goals during this decade and how while that’s a baseball-wide problem it doesn’t absolve the Twins.
The second point is harder to quantify, but the number of stories we’ve heard over the years of “the Twins were in on Player X but he signed with Team Y” lends credence to it.
The truly savvy fan, of course, will use such stories to lament that the “Cheap Pohlads” who own the team won’t go above and beyond to woo those players turned off by our sunless January skies.
At the intersection of both notions, though, is the Twins’ recent signing of Josh Donaldson for $21 million a year for the next four years plus a guaranteed $8 million more in a buyout. The $92 million overall commitment dwarfs the four year, $55 million deal given to Ervin Santana in 2015 as the largest contract for an outside free agent in Twins history. (Joe Mauer got exactly twice as much over exactly twice as much time, but that was an extension).
My initial thought was that the Donaldson signing might quiet the Cheap Pohlad crowd a bit, but I think we’re at least one starting pitcher away from dimming that bulb. And to be fair: The Twins payroll, while projected at a team-record $137 million, would only match the 2019 MLB average at that amount. Even after a busy offseason with Donaldson as a centerpiece, the Twins are financially prudent.
But maybe we are ready to shift the other part of the narrative: that free agents don’t want to come here. Last year’s notables included Nelson Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez, Jonathan Schoop and Martin Perez – a group that helped produce 101 wins and paved the way, Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey might argue, for Rich Hill, Alex Avila, Tyler Clippard and Homer Bailey to join Donaldson as outside free agents signing with the Twins already this offseason.
“We heard a lot through this offseason, watching the team play last year how much fun the guys were having, how loose it was, the environment. Players like that. We knew that we were an attractive destination,” Falvey told reporters recently. “Certainly there are things that players factor in in their decision — geography, finances, whatever. You know those are going to play a role at the end of the day, but I felt like we were going to be an attractive destination for people.”
As far as the financial piece, it surely helps that none of the deals outside of Donaldson’s were for more than two years or even a quarter of his guaranteed money. But it sounds as though the Twins’ spending reputation wasn’t a hindrance.
“It’s a narrative that’s out there because it’s just what’s happened. It’s fact. It transpired,” Falvey told Miller. “I think current players, my experience with this and maybe you guys need to ask current players more, is that current players, they look at the team. Do they want to be a part of that? And if the financial part of that lines up, great, they’ll move forward. I don’t think we ever ran into a perception issue when we talked to other players or other agents about it.”
But that narrative, as already noted, won’t be eradicated easily (and, some can justifiably argue, for good reason). The other one, though, about players not wanting to come here?
I’m ready to buy that the Twins’ approach and success in 2019 is altering it.