Five Spicy Twins Takes for 2021
Before we get to the playoffs, let's look ahead for just a minute...
The regular season is over, and the playoffs begin on Tuesday already. With that said, it's not too soon to look ahead to 2021 and what we all hope will be a "regular" regular season.
Here are five spicy takes about the Minnesota Twins heading into the 2021 offseason/season.
1. Luis Arraez replaces Marwin Gonzalez as the team's super-utility man
It's no secret that Arraez has struggled for much of this year, though it's easy enough to point toward knee issues that have limited him to playing in only about 50 percent of the team's games this season.
Still, the Twins have seen the value in having players who can fill in capably at multiple positions like Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza in recent seasons, and both are up for free agency heading into this winter. And while Arraez has exclusively played second base when in the field this season, he's played short, third and left field as well.
So why limit him to just second base when he may or may not be a fixture there? Similarly, manager Rocco Baldelli has shown the willingness to move guys around to keep their bats in the lineup -- much like he did with Arraez in his rookie season.
Also, the Twins have a pretty good option for the longer term at second base (or shortstop).
2. By the end of the 2021 season, Royce Lewis will have played the most games at either second base or shortstop on the team
The 2020 season was disastrous in a lot of ways that didn't affect the big-league club directly. It'll be hard to know how much it hurt the development of the team's prospects who were close to the big leagues. That includes Lewis, the team's No. 1 overall pick in 2017, who was blistering hot in the Arizona Fall League last year before the 2020 minor league season was scuttled altogether.
How much has his development been stalled by being stationed at the alternate training site? How long will the Twins want to stash him at whatever level he's assigned to to start the 2021 season -- his age-22 season -- before unleashing him in the big leagues?
My suspicion is he starts the 2021 season at either Double-A Pensacola (more likely) or Triple-A Rochester, and then is promoted sometime in late May or early June.
Will he play short or second base? That depends on how the Twins view Jorge Polanco's development at shortstop this season. Polanco graded out at minus-3.9 runs defensively at shortstop last season according to Fangraphs, but has bumped it up to 3.3 runs on the positive side this season.
Fifty-one games isn't enough of a sample size to know if it's for real or not, but having Lewis start as a second baseman takes some of the pressure off him to produce on both sides in what the Twins hope is his first, and only, big-league call-up.
Shifting Arraez to super utility gives the Twins added protection here, as well as against any possible injuries to Josh Donaldson or, in a pinch, a corner outfielder.
3. The Twins will non-tender Eddie Rosario, and look to paper over left field until promoting one of Alex Kirilloff or Trevor Larnach
This one can hardly be viewed as surprising, though who they sign to replace him is probably where the spice comes into play. My suspicion is that Rosario would end up in Miami to reunite with James Rowson, if this happens on a one-year deal, to build value before attempting to hit it big with a payday in free agency after 2021.
As for the Twins, they would have some options here. It seems unlikely they'd hand the keys to Kirilloff or Larnach right away, but not impossible. As far as in-house options, both Jake Cave and LaMonte Wade Jr. are more than capable of handling left in the interim, but if the Twins value them more as complementary pieces, the Twins have plenty to choose from in free agency as well.
If the Twins want to go with a true outfielder, the following could be fits:
Robbie Grossman -- Minnesota familiarity, on-base skills, improved defense
Michael Brantley -- has AL Central and Derek Falvey familiarity from Cleveland time, age (34 in May) probably means shorter-term deal
Jackie Bradley Jr. -- stellar defender whose bat has turned around a bit this year (106 wRC+, 92 career)
Brett Gardner -- play has fallen off a bit this year, but still at 106 wRC+ and won't require long-term commitment at 37
Starling Marte -- would be on the higher end, and probably signal the team's willingness to move an outfielder for pitching help
Nick Castellanos -- would also be on higher end and would need to opt out of Reds deal, and probably be a DH/1B over the longer term, but walloped lefties in 2019
But that brings us to maybe the best fit on the free-agent market -- Enrique Hernandez. He can play everywhere, and is the perfect replacement for Gonzalez/Adrianza while being a tremendous fit in the clubhouse.
Hernandez is also a career .263/.346/.475 hitter against lefties, which would help clean up a bit of the team's woes against southpaws which have been painfully evident this season.
Hernandez is coming off a couple down years -- 88 and 85 wRC+, respectively -- and it's hard to imagine the Dodgers making too much of a priority to re-sign him with guys like Chris Taylor, Max Muncy and Gavin Lux more than capable of holding down infield jobs with Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager in the mix.
4. The Twins will again sign Jake Odorizzi to a one-year deal
There's no denying it's been a brutal year for the 30-year-old righty: He's made just four starts spanning 13.2 innings with a 6.59 ERA. The familiarity factor here makes a lot of sense for re-upping the veteran on a one-year deal, with incentives built in for if/when he proves he's fully healthy.
Maybe something like one year, $10 million with $1 million for every 20 innings up to 200? That caps the deal at $20 million -- still a pretty good raise from the $17.8 million he expected when accepting the qualifying offer this past season.
5. Nelson Cruz signs a one-year deal with a sweetheart option in year two that gives him a sizable bonus if he opts to "retire" after 2021
The Twins need Cruz more than he needs them -- and they know that. If the universal DH rule sticks for 2021 and henceforth, the market for Cruz's services just got far more robust. Cruz has been a huge part in the cultural shift in the Twins clubhouse, and appears to be a pivotal sounding board for Miguel Sano among Latin players, but really all players in the clubhouse in some form or fashion.
He's a galvanizing force in the clubhouse and community, and keeping him until his career ends seems like a pretty big priority for the Twins.
So what can the Twins do to differentiate their offer from others?
A two-year offer makes sense. Maybe something like two years, $30 million with the second year being an option with a buyout that's higher than usual -- say, $7-10 million. That allows the Twins to pay him $15 million in 2021 -- a nice raise from the $14 and $12 million he was promised the last two years -- with a nice parting gift if he chooses to ride off into the sunset prior to 2022.