NASHVILLE — There were a couple of high-profile free agent signings in the first month of the offseason — namely pitchers Aaron Nola and Sonny Gray — but there has been somewhat of a freeze over the past week.
One reason for a halt in the action, multiple executives said, had to do with teams pursuing Shohei Ohtani and pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Ohtani, the two-way superstar, could command a contract above $500 million with a few teams in the running for his services. The 25-year-old Yamamoto, who dominated in Japan, is in demand for a contract above $200 million.
Another reason for the slow-paced free agent market is the uncertainty surrounding TV contracts with regional sports networks. The Twins' TV deal with Diamond Sports Group expired at the end of the season, which paid them nearly $55 million this year, and they have not announced their TV home for the upcoming season.
There are 11 teams that remain under contract with Diamond Sports Group, though the sports network is seeking to shed its deals with the Cleveland Guardians and Texas Rangers. Other teams may be dropped after the 2024 season, which affects the way teams are approaching their budgets.
"I feel it in conversations," said Derek Falvey, Twins president of baseball operations. "Even if it's not direct with some of the conversations you're having with other clubs [it shows with] the types of players they're targeting, where they might have limitations and who they can access from our team. That guy might not fit as well, meaning he might not fit as well financially, not that they don't like the player. Those types of things are coming up in conversations a little bit more."
The Twins have explored a variety of avenues for their TV future. Cory Provus, who will be the lead TV play-by-play voice, was assured there will not be any local blackouts as the Twins look to widen their audience through traditional TV channels and streaming, but the club likely won't make up the full size of their previous TV contract next year.
After carrying around a $155 million payroll during the 2023 season, Falvey already confirmed the Twins will reduce their payroll for the upcoming season. The club currently has around $125 million committed toward next year's roster and it's not expected to rise significantly higher.
"We knew there'd be some ebb and flow and that's ultimately impacted some by revenue uncertainty," Falvey said. "The way we look at it has always been we're going to work creatively within a lower band of payroll to begin with. We're ultimately just trying to shape the roster to build off what we did last year with the group we're bringing back. For us, that comes with some limitations from a payroll standpoint, but it doesn't mean that we can't find ways to add to this team in different ways."
The Twins are more active on the trade market because a deal involving one of their veteran players may be necessary to free up payroll space for a free agent signing. None of their trade talks, Falvey said, have progressed to advanced stages.
More teams are in a similar boat. The San Diego Padres on Wednesday night traded right fielder Juan Soto to the New York Yankees to free up payroll to add pitching. Falvey's counterpart with the Seattle Mariners, Jerry Dipoto, admitted he traded four players to create payroll flexibility.
"There are a host of clubs that are in that same conversation," Falvey said. "Something that I know the commissioner, the commissioner's office and the ownership level, they are all working on it, but we remain in a little bit of a period of uncertainty. I think that has an impact across the industry, no question."
Operating with a lower payroll may force the Twins to lean on their younger players. It could create more playing time for guys like utilityman Nick Gordon and first baseman Jose Miranda.
"You're going to force yourselves to use some of the young players," Falvey said. "Get them the exposure and experience they're going to need to be better, to be good major league players."