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Happy New Year,
If you thought previous winters were ice-cold for Minnesota Twins fans, this year’s is taking it to another level.
And I’m not just saying this because it’s minus-11 as I type these words.
We’re coming up on a month since the MLB owners locked out the players. Transactions have ceased outside of the occasional minor-league contract here or there, with no end in sight as the sides likely won’t begin negotiating in earnest until the new year.
Where things get tricky from an analysis standpoint is that we aren’t totally sure how far teams are into the offseason. We know what players will still be available in free agency when the bell rings. We might even have a decent idea of what players are available for trades.
But we have no idea how long the period between player movement opening up and spring training will be. Will it be a month, allowing for a flurry of transactions but not at break-neck speeds? Will it be a week or two, leading to an even wilder push than we saw in November?
In that way, we can’t exactly assess how far teams are into their offseason plan. We can look at the Twins having only signed Dylan Bundy, and give them an F to this point or an incomplete if we’re being generous, but again that’d be like grading an essay with only the introductory paragraph written down.
Are we looking at a rough draft? Are we looking at an introductory paragraph? Are we even looking at a rough storyboard of ideas that’ll come together quickly when the time comes?
None of us know that.
So in this exercise, we can look at what the Twins have already done, and map out three paths to forge ahead: an aggressive one, a balanced one, and a hybrid of the two. With those paths, they’ll address at least two positions with a catch-all third position as well.
Let’s talk to it:
There are two ways to look at the aggressive approach to starting pitching, one of which is simply signing Carlos Rodon.
We’ve talked about that in this space, Rodon checks off virtually every box the Twins would likely be looking to fill. He’s a legitimate ace. He turned 29 less than a month ago. He’ll be expensive, but on a shorter-term deal due to his injury history.
But there’s the stucco. Why didn’t the White Sox offer him a qualifying offer? He definitely pitched well enough to merit one. He should — assuming he passes the physical — get a deal with an AAV of around the qualifying offer of $18.4 million.
Nobody knows Rodon’s medicals better than the White Sox, and they decided to simply not take that risk. Were they scared off by the idea of possibly hanging onto Craig Kimbrel after exercising his option and afraid of paying two potentially questionable pitchers that much money over a single season?
But again, if a team has confidence in their medical staff, shouldn’t they be pretty sure that they’ll make the right decision if they agree with Rodon financially as far as checking him out medically?
For the Twins to aggressively pursue pitching through a trade, there are multiple avenues to consider. Is trading for Chris Bassitt or Sean Manaea particularly aggressive? I don’t really think so, as that’s something Twins fans should simply expect at this point.
This is a team without a 1, 2 or 3 starter right now. Trading for one of that trio isn’t exactly putting your neck on the line.
A riskier trade would be trading the going rate for someone like Frankie Montas, Zac Gallen, Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, John Means or Pablo Lopez.
So why would this be more “aggressive” than someone like Manaea or Bassitt? They have more club control than Bassitt or Manaea — both of whom are eligible for free agency after 2022 —, and thus would cost more in terms of players sent back in a trade.
Here’s when each of the aforementioned pitchers will be eligible for free agency:
Montas - after 2023 (two years of club control)
Gallen - after 2025 (four years)
Castillo - after 2023 (two years)
Mahle - after 2023 (two years)
Means - after 2024 (three years)
Lopez - after 2024 (three years)
Every single one of those guys could feasibly require the Twins to move Royce Lewis or Austin Martin in a trade package. Are they willing to do that? We really don’t know because to this point in the Falvey/Levine regime, we haven’t seen it.
Guys like Bassitt or Manaea might be more likely, but would probably wisely be followed with a fairly sizable extension to whichever they choose to acquire. Manaea is a year older than Eduardo Rodriguez and a year away from free agency, still, but it’s not a bad template to consider when realizing Rodriguez got five years and $77 million despite zero career seasons with an ERA below 3.80 — including most recently in 2019.
Manaea has been a little bit all over the map but is coming off a season in which he made 32 starts with 194 strikeouts in 179.1 innings. The durability hasn’t always been there for Manaea — nor has the execution — but like Rodriguez, these are the risks teams are willing to take with young(ish) pitchers who still seem to have some upside.
Bassitt will be 33 before he throws his next big-league pitch, but he fanned more than a batter per inning while finishing 10th in Cy Young balloting this season. He was hit on the head with a comebacker last season in mid-August, and only came back to make two starts after the fact — so it’s unclear if there will be any lasting effects from that.
The approach the Twins seem most likely to take, however, is the “spread it around” approach. It won’t be popular, and it may not be effective. But it’s consistent with how they’ve done business in the last few years.
Might they orchestrate a trade for the next Kenta Maeda/Jake Odorizzi type? That seems fairly likely. Might they sign three free agents to modest deals hoping at least one pans out? That also seems possible.
Neither of those would make the fan base happy, and like last offseason with Matt Shoemaker and J.A. Happ, it could blow up on the Twins spectacularly again.
But there are some pitchers left out there who could make this work. Would a trio of Michael Pineda, Danny Duffy and Johnny Cueto excite anyone? No. The same could be said for swapping out any of those guys for Tyler Anderson, Garrett Richards or Zach Davies.
Could the Twins hit big on a reclamation project like Carlos Martinez, Matthew Boyd or Vince Velasquez?
Or maybe even more relevant, how about taking a look at Yusei Kikuchi, who has a lot of things a team would want in a pitcher but needs to find a way to get hitters off his fastball? He might be the best of what’s left, but he’s by no means a No. 1 starter.
If the next No. 1 starter is going to come from within, this is probably the approach the team is going to take.
With that said, the only — let me emphasize ONLY — way this is acceptable is if the Twins shoot for the moon in the other two spots we talk about here.
If they do the “spread it around” approach for all three spots, it just leaves too much up to chance for this team to compete in 2022 — and why have Byron Buxton and Josh Donaldson signed to the deals they are if competing isn’t at least on the table?
Shooting for the moon here is signing Trevor Story. The Minnesota Twins should do this. As in, make no mistake about it, I would rather see the Twins invest in a big way up the middle — like they did with Buxton — while working toward more of a self-sustainable rotation than signing someone like Rodon to a big deal that feels likely to disappoint.
Sign Story to the contract Jose Berrios signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. That money was earmarked for Berrios in the first place, right? It was about the years for a starting pitcher — not the dollars?
So give Story six years and something like $140 million. He’s worth every penny, and would be getting more than $200 million if he didn’t have merely a good year instead of a ridiculous one like he had the previous two with the Rockies.
He’s a legit defensive shortstop who can run, and that’s before considering he’s a career .272/.340/.523 hitter who is entering his age-29 season. This is the biggest no-brainer facing a team like the Twins, who could use this infusion of talent to free up players to either switch positions or be available in trades for the Twins to land a Montas, Gallen or someone of that ilk.
Yes, it’s possible to be aggressive on multiple fronts — and the Twins should, in all likelihood, do this. Again, if they’re going to be relying on the self-sufficiency of the rotation, spend the money elsewhere. Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran are going to make peanuts for the first few years of these deals anyway.
Less aggressive at shortstop would be trading for someone like Paul DeJong. DeJong is a solid defensive shortstop with big power and decent, but not elite plate discipline. His 162-game average would be a tremendous season for a Twins shortstop:
29 home runs
84 runs batted in
84 runs scored
.241/.312/.443 slash with solid defense
Of course he’s not going to play 162 games. But he played 159 in 2019 and hit .233/.318/.444 with 30 homers, 78 runs batted in and 97 runs scored. That’s….basically what that average suggested.
he’s due about $15.4 million over the next two seasons with options worth $12.5 and $15.0 million in 2024-25. If he plays poorly, it’s little wagered, little lost. If he plays well, the Twins can exercise the options and have him into his early 30s — or they could trade him if one of the kids in the minors steps up, as those options would still be fairly attractive since they’re only for his ages -30 and -31 seasons.
The Cardinals could be willing to move him with the emergence of Edmundo Sosa, though that’s not a guarantee.
Other shortstops who could be interesting and available and fit the bill as not exactly aggressive but somewhere in the middle include Isiah Kiner-Falefa of the Rangers or Josh Rojas of the Diamondbacks.
The Twins could also sign Jonathan Villar and use him at short and/or a variety of other positions depending on what they need over the medium-term haul. Villar turns 31 in May and has experience nearly everywhere on the diamond, but hasn’t stayed anywhere for a particularly long time.
With that said, he’s coming off a season in which he hit .249/.322/.416. That’s plenty respectable, but he’s better suited in a jack-of-all-trades role a la Eduardo Escobar rather than a starting role at short, where he’s pretty stretched defensively.
On the lower end of things, and people will again hate this, is bringing back Andrelton Simmons or signing someone like Jose Iglesias. Both would come cheaply, though at this point it’s almost certain Iglesias would offer more with the bat.
The reviews are mixed on Iglesias defensively. He came up as a defensive wizard with the Red Sox and then the Tigers, and he made no shortage of splashy plays for the Angels and Red Sox last season.
Iglesias was graded as 74 outs above average at short, while UZR had him at minus-6.1 and defensive runs saved had him at minus-22. None of this really computes, but if he can be a solid defender and replicate his 91 wRC+ from last season, he could help a lot of clubs.
Simmons battled Jake Cave for the title of most disliked Twin among fans in 2021 — ultimately winning due to Cave being hurt for a large portion of the season — but he was pretty good defensively while providing almost nothing with the bat.
No really, check out his Statcast profile.
image credit: baseballsavant.mlb.com
Is it possible he could return to form offensively? Maybe. Weirder things have happened. But this Statcast profile offensively could be replicated by Nelson Cruz swinging a pool noodle.
He’d come cheap and play excellent defense — two things the Twins will be looking for — but did he wear out his welcome in Minnesota? We won’t know until we see where he signs, most likely.
Filling out the Roster
This is pretty much the catch-all for if the Twins decide they need another corner guy or designated hitter as well as whatever they decide to do with relief pitching.
As far as being aggressive on the relief market, I just don’t see it. There are plenty of guys who are modestly interesting who shouldn’t be terribly expensive — like Archie Bradley, John Curtiss, Mychal Givens and others — that I think anyone thinking about signing someone like Kenley Jansen is simply deluded.
So we won’t spend much time talking about relievers.
The Twins could, in theory, shoot for the moon at DH with a Nelson Cruz reunion or signing someone like Nick Castellanos or Kyle Schwarber, but it’s really not like either of those make too much sense.
Depending on what the new CBA determines, it’s possible both leagues will have a DH — and it’s not really going to be wise for the Twins to commit an eight-figure salary to a hitter who’ll bring no value defensively, I don’t think.
One name I really like is Jorge Soler. To me, he kind of feels like the next Cruz, if such a thing ever existed.
Soler was excellent for the Braves down the stretch last season, slashing .269/.358/.524 with 14 home runs in just 55 games. In a way, he found some of the form that allowed him to smash 48 home runs in 2019 with the Royals while hitting .265/.354/.569 and striking out 178 times.
In a way, he’s a hybrid of Cruz and Miguel Sano — and that’s not a bad thing if you can sign him for, say, $5-6 million for a year and limit the number of defensive reps he takes.
He’s a nice insurance policy against Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach needing more seasoning, but there’s also not much of a chance he’s going to need to make 75-80 starts in the outfield unless the season goes completely off the rails.
It’s a good gamble to take, in my opinion.
Outside of Soler, could Joc Pederson make sense? Maybe. What about Micahel Conforto? I’m not really sure I see either of them, but again it could loosen up the potential to move a prospect or two in a deal for pitching. I especially like Conforto over Pederson in that respect, mostly because his platoon splits are a bit less drastic.
If the Twins want to get a bit more right-handed offensively, I like Tommy Pham as a fit. He’s heading into his age-34 season and has been bit by the injury bug a bit, but he’d make the offense more right-handed — especially big with Kirilloff and Larnach in tow — and would bring good discipline to an offense that could use it.
I also would not oppose a reunion with Eddie Rosario on the cheap. The same goes for Ehire Adrianza (obviously cheaper than Rosario, however).
As far as a remaining stud like Kris Bryant? I just don’t see it. It’s not that I don’t think the Twins could make it work — hell, he could be Donaldson insurance and play left field to start the season with Kirilloff at first base, Sano at DH and Larnach in St. Paul — but I just don’t think it’s the kind of fit the team is looking for.
I also don’t see the Twins as a player for Carlos Correa. It just doesn’t make sense to make that kind of financial commitment to a player with what we seem to know about the team’s supposed budget.
Freddie Freeman is much more interesting as a great player as well, but I’m not sure I see him leaving Atlanta. He or Anthony Rizzo could make some sense for the Twins, especially with Sano having one foot out the door.