How COVID-19 Will Hurt Eddie Rosario and the Twins
Image courtesy of © David Berding-USA TODAY SportsFrom a player’s point of view, there’s no worse career stage at which to be right now than that of Trevor May. He’s due to hit free agency this fall, but free agency is going to be as unprofitable a proposition this fall and winter as it has been since MLB players won the right to become free agents. From a team’s point of view, though, the worst career stage is the one at which Eddie Rosario now finds himself.
Rosario, 28, is two seasons of service time from becoming a free agent, but thanks to COVID-19, of course, that has effectively turned into 1.4 seasons. More saliently, the team isn’t necessarily inclined to wait that long before acting. Rosario’s persistent inconsistency at the plate and the Twins’ looming alternatives in left field have made him a trade candidate.
Alex Kirilloff and Travor Larnach both seem likely to surpass Rosario in terms of performance within a year. Even if they don’t, Rosario’s poor defense in left field and increasing salary make him a cog ill-suited to operating what is a newly modernized machine. Trading him could, in theory, have been a good option for the team, either this summer or after the season. Now, however, that seems much less likely.
Consider that, for players actually reaching free agency, the impact of whatever losses owners realize due to COVID-19 will be clear and straightforward. They’ll only get what the market will bear, and (for better or worse) teams will set the market in accordance with their projected budgets for 2021. For those still early in their careers (either yet to reach arbitration, or just reaching it), the impacts will be minimal, and teams will be more eager than ever to acquire and retain players in that segment of the compensation structure.
Arbitration, though, is a different matter. It follows rules and procedures that will be hard, if not impossible, to adjust to fit the present circumstances. What a player earns via arbitration is determined by how much they earned the previous year, how they compare to similar players at the same stage of the process, and (in the case of players late in the process, like Rosario) how they compare to players who have recently reached free agency.
The inflexibility of the arbitration system has been a problem for years now, distorting the league’s compensation structure and changing the career trajectories of several individual players. It’s an especially glaring weakness now, however, and it leaves teams and players in a bad position.
Rosario was set to make $7.75 million in 2020, though that figure will now be pro-rated. Given his proximity to free agency and the way the system values the antiquated measures of offensive performance in which he excels, he could easily be in line to get an eight-figure salary in 2021. That’s part of why the Twins are interested in moving on. In a league that looks likely to spend substantially less money on players next season, though, it becomes a downright bad deal, and that torpedoes Rosario’s trade value.
The only way the Twins might plausibly get something worthwhile for Rosario, at this point, is if they find a trade partner who is also saddled with a player near free agency ill-fitted to their roster and set to make an inflated arbitration-set salary. Failing that, Rosario will either stick around (making it harder to get Kirilloff, Larnach, Brent Rooker, and any other hitter who takes unexpectedly large steps forward, as Mitch Garver and Luis Arráez did just last season), or he’ll have to be traded for virtually nothing.
Except in the most craven zero-sum sort of way, no team or player is really benefiting from COVID-19. They’re all being hurt in different ways, though. The Twins and Rosario now find themselves in a tricky spot, and the only really happy resolution for which they might hope is Rosario getting very hot over the course of this short season. Rosario has had All-Star-caliber half-seasons in the past. For multiple reasons, the Twins need another one in 2020.
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