Fear Not! Signs STILL Point to an Active Twins Offseason
I can sense your skepticism, but stick with me for a second
One year ago today, Mark Feinsand of MLB.com tweeted the following:
The deal didn’t become official for nearly two weeks, but that news helped calm what were growing worries among Minnesota Twins fans than the team was content to rest on its laurels after the “Bomba Squad” was yet another one-and-done in the postseason.
A lot has happened since then. Josh Donaldson was only a Twin for about six weeks before COVID-19 halted Spring Training, and his first year was abbreviated with a recurrence of calf injuries which prevented him from even appearing in their Division Series loss to the Houston Astros.
Fast forward a year, and similar concerns are brewing among Twins fans. It’s not without reason, either.
The Twins really haven’t done anything, short of signing reliever Hansel Robles to a one-year deal worth $2 million. Robles’ 2020 was an unmitigated disaster — 10.26 ERA/5.89 FIP in 16.2 innings — but between the last two seasons, he combined for an fWAR of 1.6. That’s higher than Pedro Baez (1.4 fWAR from 2019-20), who turns 32 in Spring Training and secured a multi-year deal worth $12.5 million with a club option for 2023 from those pesky Astros.
The cold reality is that Spring Training is expected to start in about a month. We don’t know for sure if it will. We don’t know for sure if the National League will have a designated hitter. We don’t know for sure if any teams will have fans in the stands to start the season.
A lot of this failure to launch falls on Rob Manfred and his cohorts at MLB, and it has led to another free-agent freeze-out reminiscent of the 2017-18 winter.
How frigid has it been? Friend of the program Dan Hayes of The Athletic gives us a glimpse as of a few days ago:
Some of the anxiety also comes from seeing national media types crowning the Chicago White Sox as the early winners of the offseason. They were already right in the thick of things in the American League Central race this past offseason, and have since added former Twins pitchers Lance Lynn and Liam Hendriks as well as outfielder, and #OldFriend of their own, Adam Eaton.
That’s a sizable amount of talent to add, but none of the three moves come without potential downsides. Lynn has been nothing short of terrific in the two full seasons since he left Minnesota in an in-season trade to New York — both seasons have resulted in top-six finishes in the AL Cy Young balloting — but he’s signed for just one more year (albeit super reasonably) and cost the Sox a really good, cheap and young pitching prospect in Dane Dunning as well as Avery Weems, a lefty who looks pretty good thus far early in his career.
Hendriks got a $54 million guarantee from the White Sox for at least the next three seasons and possibly as many as four. Hendriks has been absolutely terrific over the last two seasons with the A’s — 1.79 ERA in 99 games/110.1 IP with 13.1 K/9 and a 0.90 WHIP — but high-dollar, medium-to-long-term deals for relievers can be especially tricky.
Any reliever can be a bit spotty year-to-year. Hendriks was teammates with Blake Treinen in Oakland. Treinen had a 0.78 ERA with the A’s in 2018 and finished sixth in Cy Young balloting. A year later, his ERA threatened 5.00 and the A’s non-tendered him. He was good, but certainly not great again last year with the Dodgers — and he’s only about seven months older than Hendriks.
Aroldis Chapman signed a mega-deal with the Yankees and at times has been closer to really good than super-elite. Kenley Jansen has had a few hiccups in the road on his big-money deal with the Dodgers.
None of that is to say the deal can’t work out for Hendriks and the White Sox — just that things have to be almost perfect for it to not feel like it was a bit of an overpay.
With Eaton, it’s just not clear that he’s particularly good right now. He’s only 32, but over his last 192 games he’s hit just .268/.348/.418 (98 OPS+) with a large portion of those struggles coming in 2020. That’s not to say he can’t be good again — just that it was strange to see him being a priority free agent in a market that still didn’t have Michael Brantley or George Springer signed.
Eaton signed on Dec. 10 — neither of the other two has yet. Again, maybe it’ll all work out, but it doesn’t necessarily pass the sniff test.
Now, with all of this said, I’m still extremely confident the Twins will have a very active offseason.
Why? Let’s go over some reasons:
Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have never been shy about waiting out the market
Let’s look at some dates on significant transactions done during the Falvey/Levine regime, shall we?
Feb. 10, 2020 - Twins trade for Kenta Maeda
Jan. 22, 2020 - Twins sign Donaldson
Feb. 25, 2019 - Twins sign Marwin Gonzalez
Jan. 15, 2018 - Twins sign Addison Reed
Feb. 17, 2018 - Twins trade for Jake Odorizzi
Feb. 20, 2018 - Twins sign Anibal Sanchez
Feb. 28, 2018 - Twins sign Logan Morrison
March 12, 2018 - Twins sign Lynn
For better or worse, the market is right where Falvey and Levine have found it every season they’ve been at the helm of this club, with the possible exception of their first winter where they didn’t do an awful lot.
Now, this alone doesn’t prove they still have a bunch of moves they’re planning on making. It’s like the whole “Past performance is no guarantee of future results” spiel you hear every time someone is peddling investments on the radio.
But in accordance with how everything else is lined up this winter, there’s still ample reason to believe the Twins are not only just heating up, but not even really started yet.
The truth is that nobody else has really done anything, either
Yes, the White Sox have made some moves and the San Diego Padres have been proceeding like their collective hair is on fire. Everything else is moving at a glacial pace.
None of the top-five free agents from MLB Trade Rumors’ top-50 list have signed yet. No. 6 is Marcus Stroman, and he accepted the qualifying offer from the New York Mets. The only others in the top 10 to have signed are Ha-Seong Kim — who signed with the Padres but had a deadline to sign — and Kevin Gausman, who also accepted a qualifying offer.
These are the top-50 free agents to have signed:
No. 6 Stroman - QO, Mets
No. 7 Kim - four-year deal, Padres
No. 9 Gausman - QO, Giants
No. 12 Hendriks - three-year deal, White Sox
No. 16 James McCann - four-year deal, Mets
No. 28 Trevor May - two-year deal, Mets
No. 29 Treinen - two-year deal, Dodgers
No. 33 Charlie Morton - one-year deal, Braves
No. 36 Robbie Ray - one-year deal, Blue Jays
No. 38 Carlos Santana - two-year deal, Royals
No. 40 Mike Minor - two-year deal, Royals
No. 43 Greg Holland - one-year deal, Royals
No. 44 Drew Smyly - one-year deal, Braves
No. 49 Anthony DeSclafani - one-year deal, Giants
That’s 14/50 — or just 28 percent of the top-50 free agents to already have a landing space. That’s a list that also didn’t include some pretty good free agents, like Robbie Grossman (who signed with the Tigers), Baez, Kyle Schwarber (who signed with the Nationals) or Archie Bradley (who signed with the Phillies on Thursday).
There is still just so much talent out there — still!
The proof is in the pudding — or in this case, the team’s 40-man roster construction
This, to me, is the sneaky reason why the Twins aren’t done. Pretty much nobody goes into spring training with a 40-man roster that isn’t full. The Twins are only at 36 right now. And while they don’t have any glaring, obvious holes — sure, they really need another starter, a reliever and to fill out the DH, but they could win 85 games if they didn’t do any of those things most likely — they’re still obviously staying engaged in the market at a number of positions.
But it isn’t just that the Twins are at 36 — but they also have some guys on the 40-man roster who are by no means guaranteed to be Teflon if the team makes a bunch of moves. To translate: if the Twins somehow were to sign seven guys, they won’t have to agonize over who to remove from the 40-man roster.
In addition to the four open spots, the Twins have 40-man spots occupied by Ian Gibaut, Lewis Thorpe, Brandon Waddell, Willians Astudillo, Nick Gordon, LaMonte Wade Jr. and Jake Cave.
None of this is to say that these men aren’t good ballplayers or couldn’t be in the right role, but rather than if the Twins are at 40 and Nelson Cruz decides he wants to ride again, the team wouldn’t flinch to run one of those guys through waivers in hopes of keeping them in the organization as depth, or flip them to another team for a Double-A guy they really like who isn’t on the 40 yet.