Here's How the Twins Can Reasonably Finish an A+ Offseason
It's probably not as complicated — or expensive — as one might think
It’s not exactly the winter of our discontent, but Minnesota Twins fans have become increasingly uneasy about the lack of moves the team has made thus far in the offseason.
We addressed some of that recently here, but that was 10 days ago and not much has changed. The Twins did sign J.A. Happ, but to steal a quote from my pastor growing up, that’s not going to make peoples’ socks roll up and down.
And that’s totally fair, to be honest. Neither Happ — the team’s likely fifth starter — nor Hansel Robles, who could slot in anywhere from first to fifth or sixth in the team’s bullpen if we count from the back end, are terribly exciting additions. They might be shrewd additions a good team makes to finish off an offseason, but that’s kind of like using parsley as a garnish on an empty plate.
But again, I’m still convinced the Twins have plenty left in the tank moves-wise to not necessarily respond to what the Chicago White Sox have done — which is a foolish thing to try do when it comes to acquisitions anyway — but retain their status as the odds-on favorite to defend their back-to-back American League Central crowns.
They have open 40-man spots. They have needs. They have players on the current 40-man roster who could easily be DFA’d. They have, ostensibly, some budget room to work with.
And we won’t focus too much on the budget here. Sure, it’s not likely the Twins will push their budget into the $150-160 million range, but that hasn’t really been all that meaningful for offseason analysis in recent years anyway. A lot of people were convinced they were done making moves in recent offseasons, only to see them add the likes of Marwin Gonzalez, Lance Lynn, Logan Morrison and even Jake Odorizzi in a trade.
So we won’t spend too much time on what we can’t really tangibly analyze anyway. We’ll try to stay within acceptable reason, which in other words means not going nuts and signing Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto and multiple relievers to multi-year deals.
Here’s what the Twins still can — and probably should — do, and do reasonably to make sure they’re set up to have another great season under Rocco Baldelli.
Address either DH or LF role — or a hybrid of the two
Will he or won’t he? Will they or won’t they? The former applies to whether Nelson Cruz will return to the Twins. The latter applies not only to if the Twins will make him a reasonable offer, and if the National League will have the DH in 2021 and moving forward.
If the Twins bring back Cruz, it’s easy enough to make it work in left field with some amalgamation of Alex Kirilloff, Brent Rooker, Jake Cave and LaMonte Wade Jr. Maybe Trevor Larnach works his way into the mix sometime in the semi-near future. But bringing Cruz back gives the lineup a completely different dimension that it doesn’t have without him.
Yeah, that might be stating the obvious — but take the time to sketch out the lineup with and without him. Moving Miguel Sano up into the third or fourth spot puts a lot of pressure on a guy who hit .204 last year. That’s not necessarily pressure on him as a player, but pressure on an offense at large. Especially one that needs to replace the thump of Eddie Rosario.
Balancing the volatility of a youngster like Kirilloff with the steady production of a player like Cruz — Father Time be damned — is a pretty important thing to do.
Contrarily, the Twins — in theory — could add a corner outfielder and shuffle guys through the DH role. Having Sano DH regularly could open up time for Kirilloff at first base — probably his best option defensively. Having Josh Donaldson DH regularly could help keep him on the field.
Having someone like Marcell Ozuna at DH, well, would also work. Ozuna hit a ridiculous .338/.431/.636 last season, and while the highlights of him defensively tend to skew toward the hilarious side, he’s not any worse out there than Rosario.
The sticking point there will be years. Even if the Twins are comfortable giving Ozuna an AAV they might not want to do with Cruz — say, $16-18m — he’s probably going to want three or even four years while the Twins are going to want to play in the two-year ballpark.
Two years would have him hitting free agency again heading into his age-32 season. The free-agent market hasn’t been terribly kind to 30-something hitters without exceptional defensive chops, so he’s really likely to be looking to max out here.
Michael Brantley also would have made some sense, but he’s signed with the Toronto Blue Jays, er, Houston Astros.
Theoretically, someone like Adam Duvall, Ryan Braun, Edwin Encarnacion, Yoenis Cespedes or Shin-Soo Choo could also work in this role, but outside of Duvall, it feels pretty unlikely they’d target the others outside of a Lucas Duda-like camp invite.
Make up their mind at shortstop
Again — will they or won’t they? The Twins can address the shortstop position in free agency this winter by signing Didi Gregorius, Marcus Semien or Andrelton Simmons. Each of them carries a different dimension they’d add to a team. All three are better defensively than Jorge Polanco. Gregorius would bring significant thunder to the lineup from the left side, while Semien would probably be a fairly respectable bat from the right side — assuming his 2019 season offensively was an aberration, which seems like a fair bet.
Simmons never strikes out and is a defensive wizard, but is a step down offensively from non-2019 Semien. Simmons would probably only require a one-year deal. Semien and Gregorius’ bidding would start at two years and maybe push into three or so.
Defensively, it makes a lot of sense to give the team an ironclad duo with Donaldson on the left side — especially since Happ is a bit more reliant on contact and can skew toward a groundball profile at times.
The elephant in the room is that next year’s shortstop class is loaded. Trevor Story, Javier Baez, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager and Carlos Correa are all free-agent eligible next winter, with the first two possibly being attainable in a trade this offseason if the Twins want to make that move and possibly get a jump-start on a longer-term deal with them.
If the Twins don’t find a shortstop to their liking this winter, they can easily roll with Polanco at short again this season and reassess next winter based on if he looks better with a healthy ankle or if Royce Lewis looks to be a big part of the future there as opposed to, say, second base or center field.
Knowing which free-agent market to wade into while maintaining a reasonable price point won’t be easy. We’re already fairly late into this winter so prices are likely already coming down, but how much money will be thrown around with five All-Star-caliber shortstops on the market next winter? Might one slip to the Twins for a reasonable price? Maybe. Maybe not?
Add another starting pitcher, probably at a below-market-value rate
In free agency, it seems to make sense that the Twins would do well to add either Jake Odorizzi on a reunion deal or James Paxton on a one-year, make-good deal.
They’re not terribly similar as pitchers, but Odorizzi would probably need a three-year deal while Paxton — a left-handed flamethrower with a history of injury issues — is reportedly looking for a one-year deal in the $12 million range.
Drew Smyly got $11 million. Garrett Richards got $10 million. The market has been rife with pitchers getting what feels like fair market value when it perhaps felt like the market would be depressed coming off a pandemic-shortened season that was primarily fanless. Taijuan Walker could be an option, but he might be looking for more than the Twins want to commit to a player with just one year of post-injury success.
They did show some interest last winter, though. Masahiro Tanaka could also be of interest, though it’s unclear how willing he is to play stateside outside of the Bronx.
Most likely, the Twins feel like they’d be more likely to swim in the marketplace of starters with multiple years of club control left — be it contractually (Marco Gonzales) or via arbitration (Jameson Taillon, who is headed to the New York Yankees but provides a reasonable template, anyway).
Who might fit that bill? Let’s cruise the Fangraphs WAR leaderboard just to get a feel for who could be in that mix and what they might cost. The Twins have a fairly strong prospect system — deep but not necessarily elite — so they should be able to make something happen in trades. That feels especially true with the prices that have been paid on the trade market, which — at least to me — feel a lot lighter than their free-agent contemporaries.
Luis Castillo (CIN): 2.4 fWAR in 2020/club control through 2023 — probably at least three of the team’s top-five prospects, making it fairly unlikely.
German Marquez (COL): 2.3 fWAR in 2020/club control through 2023 — not quite as much as Castillo but still a sizable offer, making it also unlikely.
Brandon Woodruff (MIL): 2.1 fWAR in 2020/club control through 2024 — no prospect can be deemed unavailable in this deal, so it’s very, very unlikely. He’s also only making $3.275 million this season. Corbin Burnes could be on a lot of radars too, but he’s not even eligible for arbitration yet so the price would be even higher.
Marco Gonzales (SEA): 2.0 fWAR in 2020/club control through 2024* — he’s really good and signed through as long as 2025 very cheaply ($29.75 million guaranteed, $44.75 million with ‘25 option) so he’d cost plenty, but Jerry Dipoto factor can’t be ignored.
Dylan Bundy (LAA): 2.0 fWAR in 2020/club control through 2021 — he took a big step forward with the Angels last year and was dangled at the trade deadline but ultimately held onto. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the season and the Angels need pitching more than anything, but it’s hard to say what a good offer could do with Bundy likely preferring to test the market next winter. The Angels might want more long-term stability.
Zac Gallen (ARI): 1.5 fWAR in 2020/club control through 2025 — the Twins love him, but so should everyone else as he appears to be on an incredible trajectory. This feels like the guy they’d target if they want to shoot for the moon, but there isn’t really a compelling reason for Arizona to move him.
Spencer Turnbull (DET): 1.4 fWAR in 2020/club control through 2024 — he’s best known for losing 17 games in 2019 but he only allowed 7.5 hits per nine innings last season and had a strong 11.1 percent swinging-strike rate. There might be more under the hood here, and he’s already 28. The Tigers have a lot of young pitching depth, so they might be willing to part with some of their older starters (more on that in a minute).
Sean Manaea (OAK): 1.1 fWAR in 2020/club control through 2022 — for all we know, he might be Oakland’s No. 1 starter, but he turns 29 in February and is starting to get expensive. We all know how that works with the A’s. He’s slated to make a touch under $6 million this year.
Vince Velasquez (PHI): 0.7 fWAR in 2020/club control through 2021 — he has the tantalizing combination of strikeouts and stuff paired with questionable command and a penchant for allowing home runs. Every team is going to think they can fix him, but it’s unclear if any team will get that chance. Are the Phillies going to be good this year? Probably not! Will they trade Velasquez, who is slated to make $4 million? It doesn’t seem unreasonable.
Luke Weaver (ARI): 0.5 fWAR in 2020/club control through 2023 — why might Weaver be available? He’s been especially volatile, posting ERAs of 5.70-3.88-4.95-2.94-6.58 over his first five MLB seasons. He’s 27 and has terrific strikeout stuff, but also has wavering (mostly good) command and a bit of a homer problem as well. It would seem like Arizona is in a transition mode, so maybe they could look to move someone like Weaver (or even Caleb Smith, who didn’t pitch much in 2020 and wasn’t particularly good when he did).
Jon Gray (COL): 0.5 fWAR in 2020/club control through 2021 — Gray bottomed out in 2020 (6.59 ERA/5.06 FIP in 39.0 innings, 5.1 K/9) but there’s still the chance a team will see his career numbers (9.2 K/9, 3.84 FIP) and think they can rescue him from Colorado. It wouldn’t cost much. He’ll make $6 million this season.
John Means (BAL): 0.3 fWAR in 2020/club control through 2024 — means was absolutely crushed by the long ball in 2020 (2.5 per nine) but still exhibited good command and fanned nearly a batter per inning. The price here would be a lot higher than one would expect from a pitcher who had a 5.60 FIP last season. Outside of being in the midst of an extensive rebuild, there isn’t much reason for Baltimore to move him.
Matthew Boyd (DET): 0.1 fWAR in 2020/club control through 2022 — took a huge step backward in 2020 but would potentially come at a steep discount compared to what he’d have cost in a trade a year ago. There’s some Robbie Ray to his game.
(Probably) sign another infielder
Ehire Adrianza thanked Twins fans for everything on Instagram over the weekend so he’s most likely out of the picture. There’ve been rumors of a Marwin Gonzalez return. Kiké Hernández made some sense before he signed with the Red Sox.
In short, if the Twins sign a shortstop this position will be far less of a priority. In fact, they might even be willing to let someone like Willians Astudillo, Tzu-Wei Lin or JT Riddle be that second utility type. If they don’t sign a shortstop, they’ll be more likely to aim for a Gonzalez, Brad Miller or maybe Jonathan Villar type.
Sign two relievers from the bargain bin in a couple of weeks
Regardless of regime, the Twins just haven’t gone big on relievers in free agency. Addison Reed appears to be the only multi-year free-agent reliever contract handed out by the Twins in franchise history, and it went fairly poorly.
If the Twins make all the moves above, they’ll probably have little wiggle room to add relief help. And while that doesn’t sound great, the only big-time arm they have to replace is Trevor May, who is one of the few relievers who has signed this offseason.
Reunions with Sergio Romo and/or Tyler Clippard could fit this bill. They could sign Alex Colome if he’s willing to take a one-year deal. The Twins could gamble on a former starter looking to bounce back like Mike Foltynewicz or Carlos Rodon.
Otherwise, the reliever market is packed with guys who may not have been great in 2020 — or even 2019 — but have a track record of being good at some point, such as Brad Boxberger, Steve Cishek, Tommy Hunter, Junior Guerra, Oliver Drake, Brandon Kintzler, Mark Melancon, Darren O’Day, Juan Nicasio, Brad Peacock, David Phelps, Yusmeiro Petit, David Robertson, Pedro Strop, Joakim Soria or any number of other relievers listed here.