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Twins Notes: Cruz, Rosario, Pohlad On Payroll, Free Agency In 2021

Twins owner Jim Pohlad said recently that the revenue losses due to the pandemic in 2020 won’t be the impetus for payroll decision-making in 2021, per Phil Miller of the Star Tribune (via Twitter). Pohlad does admit to the uncertainty facing next season, especially concerning future fan attendance. Pohlad refers to an “uncertainty discount” in discussing the planning for next season, though what that means in practical terms is yet to be determined.

The Twins ran out an estimated luxury tax payroll of $158MM in 2020, though the actual number was more like $132MM, and their ultimate payout to players was closer to $45MM after prorating salaries, per Cot’s Contracts. The Twins have an estimated payroll of around $100MM for 18 players next season, which is very much an estimate, as it includes estimated arbitration totals that have an even wider range of potential outcomes than usual.

The Twins have shown a commitment to winning when they view their window of contention to be open, however, as it very much is right now (despite their playoff struggles). To that end, they are currently negotiating to bring back designated hitter Nelson Cruz, writes La Velle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune. Cruz is said to be looking for a two-year deal. He just wrapped a successful two-year, $26MM deal with the Twins in which he managed a 163 wRC+ with 57 home runs over 737 plate appearances in 173 games.

A re-do of the same contract for Cruz would absorb something close to 40% of the payroll available before matching last season’s total. There’s murky math there, at best, considering the lack of clarity around arbitration and Pohlad’s “uncertainty discount.” The point remains that the Twins would figure to be judicious in certain areas this winter. That could mean non-tendering someone like Eddie Rosario, Neal suggests. The thinking there is that if the Twins believe top prospect Alex Kirilloff is ready for an outfield corner – with Max Kepler locked into another outfield spot and Byron Buxton still two seasons from free agency – they could save something close to $10MM by non-tendering Rosario.

In terms of a potential headline-making move in free agency, per Neal, Pohlad said, “We could, but we don’t know what the market for such a player is going to be. In a sense there has been, in my view — and I’m not speaking for the players or the union — there has to be some degree of risk sharing here.” Speculatively speaking, that could mean contracts with heavy incentives, even ones depending on fan attendance, though that would certainly set a complex precedent for the MLBPA. Owners would be more likely to address the issue of financial security through larger negotiations with the MLBPA.

Pohlad’s actions during the pandemic might lend a little more credence to his comments than the average owner, as the Twins have been one of the few franchises not to make any layoffs during this time. As Neal points out in his article, which is well worth a full read, Pohlad’s varied portfolio allowed the Twins to weather the storm better than most. Still, credit the Twins owner for committing to the continued employment of his staff during this difficult time.

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