Riding the momentum of a 101-win season, the Twins’ first division title in nine years, and the addition of some accomplished veterans, Rocco Baldelli challenged his team to reach the World Series as spring training opened. But the coronavirus pandemic that has devastated the nation and the world may do the same for the Twins’ lofty ambitions.
The confident team Baldelli exhorted during training camp may never take the field, not as currently constituted.
“We’re not there yet. We’re not preparing with [cancellation] in mind. There will be plenty of time for that if it comes to that,” Derek Falvey, the Twins’ president of baseball operations, said last week. “We’re focused on getting everything and everybody ready for the  season, whenever it comes. And we believe it will.”
An agreement between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association, reached on March 27 but not yet announced as final details are sorted out, established the framework of the sport’s eventual return, and the policies that will govern it until then — even if Opening Day is put off until next March. The deal provides the players an advance on their salaries, makes changes to the amateur draft and outlines the conditions necessary for playing again, this year or next.
The repercussions on the Twins, as a team and individual players, are numerous. So as the baseball world waits out its longest interruption since the 1994-95 strike, here’s a primer on a few of the off-the-field issues:
Contracts are tied to specific years, not lengths of time, so they will expire as scheduled, even though players will receive only a percentage of their wages equivalent to the length of the season. That means, for example, that if there is no 2020 season, Josh Donaldson’s four-year contract will have only three years remaining, Miguel Sano’s new three-year deal becomes a two-year deal, and Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco’s long-term deals are similarly shortened.
Most notable for the Twins: Nelson Cruz would become a free agent.
He’s not the only one, of course. Marwin Gonzalez’s two-year deal expires in October — the utility man’s contract paid him $12 million last season but declines to $9 million this year, a fortuitous construction for him — and Sergio Romo’s one-year deal is up, too.
Jake Odorizzi, having accepted (and potentially not received) a $17.8 million salary to stay in Minnesota this year, would head back into free agency for the second straight winter, but perhaps with no new performances to enhance his value.
Then there are the newcomers. Alex Avila, Homer Bailey, Tyler Clippard and Rich Hill, each a veteran with more than a decade in the majors, signed one-year free-agent contracts last winter. That means they could sign elsewhere or, considering their age, the Twins could move on, without any of them having appeared in a Twins game.
Hill’s contract is unusual, a reflection of the 40-year-old righthander’s recovery from elbow surgery last year. It pays him only $3 million over a full season but adds as much as $9.5 million in bonuses for games started or innings pitched, the maximum reached at 15 starts or 75 innings. He hopes to by ready by July, if there is a season.
Cruz’s fate would be the most intriguing story line. The slugger who has already said he wants to play in 2021 far outperformed his $14 million salary in 2019 by hitting 41 homers in only 120 games. So would the league’s top designated hitter receive a number of new offers from other teams? Would his age — Cruz turns 40 on July 1 — discourage bidders? Or would the detached ligament in his wrist? Or would his well-known workout regimen convince teams that he’s worth a gamble?
Even the Twins, who benefited from Cruz’s clubhouse leadership as well as his offensive production, would have to consider those questions, especially since there will be a new pool of free agents, and potentially an unusually deep one, on the market come November.
The players’ biggest issue in negotiations with MLB owners was getting credit for time in the majors, even when games aren’t being played, because much of the game’s salary structure is based upon service time. Owners agreed to prorate whatever length of time the season is played to a normal 187-day season, and to credit players with a full year served if the season is scrapped completely.
For catcher Mitch Garver, that means he will qualify for salary arbitration, and a large pay increase, next winter, though he will have been a regular for only two seasons.
And it could mean that Trevor May and Ehire Adrianza have also already played their final games as Twins. If there is no season, both will be credited with their sixth full season in the majors, the threshold for free agency.
But if the season is wiped out, young players like Devin Smeltzer, Luis Arraez, Zack Littell and Randy Dobnak will be credited with the same number of days they earned last season, far short of a full season, a fact that could eventually delay arbitration and free agency for them.
MLB owners agreed to advance the players $170 million for the first 60 days of the season, which was to begin on March 26. The Players Association will distribute that money over the next two months, based on a tier system. Players with guaranteed major league contracts, which constitute much of the Twins’ roster, are all earning a flat-rate paycheck of $4,775 per day through the end of May, a total of $286,500 apiece.
Rookies and players without MLB experience will be advanced a total of $16,500, $30,000 or $60,000 through May, depending upon their contract status (the Twins agreed to deals with all players on their 40-man roster by mid-March). If the season is canceled, players will not have to repay the money.
Earning $4,775 a day is obviously enormous wealth to the average American, particularly during this economy-ravaging crisis. But it’s a sliver of what many of them were supposed to make. By comparison, Donaldson, the Twins’ highest-paid player, was to earn $18 million this season, or about $96,250 per day of the season.
Michael Pineda, suspended for 60 games in August after failing a drug test, still must serve the remaining 39 games of his suspension if the season gets underway this summer, and the number will not be prorated by a shortened season. But if no games are played in 2020, Pineda’s suspension will not carry over to 2021. The righthander signed a two-year, $20 million contract with the Twins in December but forfeits his pay during the suspension.
Kenta Maeda’s contract is heavily based upon innings-pitched incentives, too. The righthander’s salary is only $3 million, but he has actually earned more than twice that figure in each of his four seasons with the Dodgers, and nearly $12 million in 2016. His earning power will be greatly diminished by a shortened season, and he’ll lose another $150,000 Opening Day bonus if the season is scuttled.