As the Twins started their path toward baseball’s single-season home run record in 2019, Eddie Rosario nicknamed his teammates the Bomba Squad.
The nickname will live on, but Rosario likely won’t be around to use it.
Rosario fell victim to MLB’s pandemic-caused pinched economy Wednesday when the Twins did not offer him a contract tender, making the six-year veteran left fielder a free agent. Tendering the 29-year-old would have made him eligible for his final year of arbitration, and he likely would have received a one-year contract in excess of $10 million.
“We felt like with where our team is, with where we may have opportunities for depth, and ways to add to our major league club, and where there are other holes where we want to try and fill, we felt this was the best decision for the team,” said Derek Falvey, the Twins president of baseball operations.
“They’re always agonizing. They’re always difficult. And we very much appreciate everything Eddie has done up to this point. He’s been a big part of this team over the last number of years.”
In a surprise move, righthanded reliever Matt Wisler was also non-tendered.
The Twins “will stay engaged” with Rosario and Wisler, Falvey said, in hopes that agreements can still be reached. He acknowledged that there are 29 other potential bidders now. In Wisler’s case, Falvey said he plans to stay in touch with the righthander’s agent.
The Twins did sign arbitration-eligible pitchers Jose Berrios, Tyler Duffey and Caleb Thielbar.
Catcher Mitch Garver also agreed to terms, as did center fielder Byron Buxton.
Rosario was placed on waivers Tuesday, giving every other MLB team a chance to claim him before noon Wednesday and tender him, but there were no takers. That meant 29 other teams agreed with the Twins in that Rosario is not a $10 million a year player.
“And we gave his agent the heads-up the other day when he was placed on outright waivers,” Falvey said, “that we were doing that really with an eye toward him getting a chance to basically have all 30 clubs make their decision on his tender amount and what the arbitration salary might look like.”
Rosario had been mentioned in trade talks the past two seasons — despite hitting 32 home runs and driving in a team-leading 109 runs in 2019 — when the Twins were trying to bolster their pitching staff. He was ejected from his final game, a playoff loss to Houston, for arguing balls and strikes.
There are less expensive left field options for the Twins.
Alex Kirilloff, 23, was the team’s first-round pick (15th overall) in 2016 out of high school. The lefthanded hitter had injury issues in the minor leagues, including Tommy John surgery, but debuted in the playoffs against Houston despite gathering rust during the shortened season with the Twins’ taxi squad in St. Paul.
Brent Rooker, 25, was impressive in a seven-game stint before he broke an arm when hit by a pitch and seems ready to make the jump to the major leagues. And Trevor Larnach, 23, was the first-round pick (20th overall) in 2018 from Oregon State. He was idled in 2020 because of the minor league shutdown and would likely be playing at AAA in 2021.
Wisler, claimed off waivers from Seattle after the 2019 season, was excellent for the Twins in 2020. The 28-year-old had a 1.08 ERA in 25⅓ innings, with 35 strikeouts.
Berrios got a one-year deal for $6.1 million, and Buxton signed for $5.125 million.
A two-time All-Star, Berrios will be a free agent in 2023. The 26-year-old is 48-38 for the Twins over five seasons, with a 4.19 ERA. His contract includes a $500,000 signing bonus, insurance against a shortened season.
Buxton has won a Gold Glove in center field but has been hit hard by injuries during his career. He hit 13 home runs in 39 games last season but missed the team’s final playoff game, possibly because of effects from a beaning the week before.
Garver, who will be 30 on Opening Day, was tendered and signed for $1.85 million after a forgettable season. He hit 31 homers in 2019 but was plagued by injuries last season, hit .167 in 23 games and lost his starting catcher job to rookie Ryan Jeffers for the playoffs.
Duffey, a 29-year-old righthanded reliever, agreed to $2.2 million. He was scheduled to make $1.2 million last season before the season was cut to 60 games. He had a sparkling 1.88 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 24 innings in 2020.
Thielbar, who returned to the Twins after a five-year absence from major league baseball at age 33, signed a $650,000 contract.
Across baseball, there were 59 arbitration eligible players — players whose service time fell between three and six years — who were not tendered, added to a crowded field of free agents that numbers close to 250. The number could have been larger, but it appears there was an effort to avoid going to arbitration in the current economic climate.
“We collectively, probably as an industry, agents, team side, the league, the union, I’m sure we’re all looking at this with, it’s uncharted territory to some degree,” Falvey said. “So we entered the process hoping that we could say, ‘Listen, before we get into the process of tender and starting to charge toward the exchange state and the potential for arb hearing with a lot of lack of clarity around how to treat a 60-game season in the construct of arbitration,’ we wanted to try to be creative beforehand.
“And when we brought that to a number of agents, they agreed.”