Will the Twins ever sign a big-name free agent? CBO Derek Falvey answers

MINNEAPOLIS — Derek Falvey has heard the complaints about the Twins not spending more this offseason and he knows fans wanted him to make a splash on the free-agent market that took the payroll well north of $100 million.

That has not happened.

Falvey, the Twins’ chief baseball officer, took time before the team’s media luncheon on Friday at Target Field to discuss the team’s payroll, the importance of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano rebounding after disappointing seasons and whether he would one day sign a big name free agent.

Q. Fans are upset about the fact your payroll is under $100 million. Team president Dave St. Peter made it clear that it’s you and general manager Thad Levine, not owner Jim Pohlad, making decisions on payroll. The feeling here is the most important thing is finding out if Buxton and Sano are going to turn into productive players. What’s your feeling about this?

A.  “Buxton and Sano, my view of that is that those guys need to take steps forward, just as Max (Kepler) does and Jorge (Polanco) and others. Now some need to come a little further than others, but for us to be good that young core has got to lead your team, has got to drive them. Free agency is a great supplement … but when you look at those playoff teams, they are built around that core of players. I think that’s important for us. With respect to the payroll question (and who makes the calls), that’s exactly right. When we’ve brought ideas to Jim Pohlad and Dave St. Peter around what we think is best for this team, they are supportive.

“Now we feel we got good deals early on in the offseason, relative to players. Fair deals but relatively good. In Nelson Cruz, we think we added a really significant player. In Jonathan Schoop, we think that’s a guy who, much like Miguel and Byron, wants to have a little bit of a return to form relative to what he’s done. So some of those didn’t necessarily come with the acquisition cost in terms of dollars, as it might have if those two players turn into what we think they are going to be. So that’s just reality. I focus a lot less on payroll personally than I know the general public does and I understand that. But I think that we’ll have opportunities, if we find them to add to the team.

“I think this pitching group, right now, when you look at Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson and what they’ve done, the steps they have taken forward. Jake Odorizzi we think is a very solid stabilizer in the rotation, and then Michael Pineda we signed with the idea that this was the year (he returns from injury). We’ve got a group of other young guys that are going to compete for that last spot. Now, you have a bullpen that … I believe bullpens are grown, they are molded, guys step into different roles. I think about a full healthy season from Trevor May and what that can do to us. We know what Taylor Rogers has been able to do. Blake Parker has been successful over the past couple of years, and we feel really good about Addison Reed’s chances to bounce back. (He had) a little bit of a difficult finish to last year.

“So that’s four guys right there. Then you layer on guys like Trevor Hildenberger and maybe some other guys who are starters for us that may end up in the bullpen. Whether it’s (Adalberto) Mejia or others that we’re talking about. A guy like Fernando Romero, whom we’ve always had those conversations about. Well, now you’re getting to five, six, seven guys who we really like. Who we think are going to impact us at some point. We want to make sure we give them the forum and the avenue to get there. So I think that right now I feel good about our team. Are there opportunities to add? There may be, potentially. But I think you want to be careful about when is the right time to strike on certain types of players? We feel we’ve done that already with a lot of our team.”

Q. I think what fans are clamoring for is that you go sign a free agent like Bryce Harper. Are you confident that day will come when your assessment of this franchise is you need a star player from the open market?

A. “I have no doubt we’ll have support from ownership around making those types of decisions. I think my experience of the game and history of studying it and learning about how teams have operated is that there are times to make those decisions. I’ve been a part of some of those decisions at different junctures. I have no doubt we’ll do that. We had conversations last offseason that were relatively public around some big-end free agents, and those were the right conversations to have at those times. I have no doubt if we find the right baseball decision — and ultimately that’s where it starts and Jim supports that — that we’ll make that investment when we feel it’s the right time.”

Q. The Twins ended up in a recent ESPN piece mentioned as one of the potential mystery teams in the Bryce Harper and Manny Machado sweepstakes. That seemed more like a guesswork than anything. Is that safe to say?

A. “They talk about mystery teams every offseason. I understand why there’s speculation with respect to different teams in that space and certainly with some payroll flexibility. But I would say that we feel really good about our position players and feel like this is a group that can really compete and contend on that side of things. I think our focus has been maybe a little bit more on the pitching side.”

Q. Has Jim Pohlad expressed concern to you about the fact you aren’t spending more in a competitive market that includes the Vikings, Wolves, Wild and Division I football and men’s basketball teams?

A. “I think that what Jim understands and what I believe, honestly, is if we go and play the way we’re supposed to play with all the guys we’ve just talked about that we’re going to compete. There’s no doubt in my mind. I don’t view free agency as maybe the single way to find ways to make this team competitive. I know our fans, they want a competitive team, they want a team that has a chance to win, they want a team to grow. I believe this is a team that can grow into that. I feel like Jim respects that, and Jim is so supportive of our baseball decisions and what we think are the right times to invest in different spaces. I just have no doubt that he feels this is the right direction for us.”

Q. What is your response to fans who are told that it’s your fault this team isn’t spending more money?

A. “My response is that it’s my responsibility as our lead baseball executive to make the decisions I think are going to put this team in the best position now and in the future. I think that’s really important for me to always be thinking. I want our players, I want our coaches to be focused on today and work forward. But my job is to try to build this thing in the direction that I believe it needs to go to be competitive over a sustainable period of time in the American League and ultimately into the playoffs. So, ultimately, I take that responsibility. But I don’t believe payroll alone equates to whether or not it’s a good team.

“I think Oakland has proven that over the last couple of years. I think Tampa had a pretty great year last year and maybe had a very similar narrative going into their season around what their payroll was or where their team was. I give those guys a ton of credit in both those organizations and what they’ve done. I came from an organization (in Cleveland) where it wasn’t just about payroll and (we) had a chance to do some things that were successful. So I feel strongly that it’s a piece of the puzzle, and I understand that it’s part of the conversation and narrative every offseason. But it’s not the single reason teams win and I want to focus on those things that I think are more important.”

Q. Buxton has reportedly put on muscle and Sano has lost weight. How confident are you that this group is going to mature into what you expected?

A. “I’ve always felt good about the talent. From the day I got here, I remember in my opening press conference talking about I liked the young talent on this team. But young talent at some point has to perform. Talent and performance aren’t always equal. … I feel like with our group, with the offseason some of our guys have had, with maybe the chip on the shoulder that some of our collective group has around wanting to perform better than we did last year, I feel like this is a group that is positioned well mentally to take those next steps. It’s going to be some work.

“I looked at what I thought our Opening Day roster was and lineup was last year. Outside of Max Kepler every one of the other guys on our team lost time by way of, in Polanco’s case, suspension or by way of injury or underperformance. Those are things we need to be better at this year. We need to stay healthy, we need good things to happen collectively to that group. I feel good that if that all comes together and happens that this is a talented team.”

Q. What is the timetable on top prospects like Alex Kirilloff and Royce Lewis?

A. “I’m always hesitant to say exactly when because I never like to put the pressure (on guys). But I will way this, those guys, Alex and Royce in particular, a pitcher like Brusdar Graterol and other guys, like Lewis Thorpe, they’re all on different time lines, so to speak. But I feel really good about that collection of players. Certainly, Royce and Alex will probably not quite start out at the upper levels of the minor leagues and be that close. But they will certainly have a chance for them to make an impact moving forward.”

Q. So you’re thinking Single-A or Double-A?

A. “Conversation about High-A and Double-A to start the year. Some of that will be somewhat dependent on how spring training goes for those guys. Where they are from a health standpoint and what we think is the best fit.”

Q. The opener was the big thing last year when Tampa Bay introduced the concept. What’s the next thing coming and do you guys have ideas that you kick around like having a reliever open games?

A. “We are always kicking around these kinds of ideas. The opener is not something that I think was just thought up last year. … That’s a good question. I could speculate more than anything else. … We definitely kick around roster management ideas. I think what we’re seeing a lot more of and maybe this isn’t new entirely, but how do you better utilize your bench and your bullpen and guys in a way that are there two-way players coming at some point? Like are those things on the horizon? Like a guy who is a lefthanded specialist but is also your fourth outfielder.

“I don’t know if that’s the case, it may come, but that would be interesting. Everyone is trying to maximize … you get 25 spots, at least according to the rules that I read. So you have to figure out how to maximize those 25, that could be an interesting next step. I wouldn’t say we’re actively working toward that. … Maybe other clubs are. You see someone like (Tampa Bay’s) Brendan McKay, who was drafted a couple of years ago that the Rays have in their minor league system, that they are continuing to let pitch and hit. That could be something that happens in the future.”