The Minnesota Twins head into the 2020-21 offseason with quite a few questions that need to be answered.
They only won the Central by a single game over both the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians, and will need to have at least a fairly active offseason to ward off the competition — most notably from the fast-charging White Sox, in my opinion.
The White Sox also have questions to answer this offseason, but took a massive step forward in an abbreviated 2020. Can they avoid the setback the 2018 Twins had after going the Wild Card Game in 2017?
If the White Sox add another starter and one more solid outfielder, they’ve got a good chance to be favored to win the division. Then again, how do the Twins respond? Which team has more questions to answer?
The expectation is that the White Sox will be more willing to throw money around. Then again, they also have more to prove and are also headed into a new era with Tony La Russa at the helm.
If nothing else, it should be an entertaining offseason — assuming it isn’t as frigid as initial indications suggest.
These are the questions I think the Twins need to answer in order to make it a three-peat in the AL Central:
What’s going to happen with Nelson Cruz?
I think the Twins are going to re-sign him. It’s true that Father Time is undefeated and it’s also true he’s heading into his age-40 season. But on a short-term deal with Brent Rooker as insurance, there isn’t much risk here, unless he really, really pushes for and gets a two-year deal from the Twins.
I’m not sure that happens.
I think a one-year deal worth something in the neighborhood of $12-15 million with an option gets it done — especially since the National League isn’t expected to add the universal DH for the 2021 season. It’s possible, if not altogether likely, for the 2022 season but appears to be off the table for next season.
If the Twins don’t retain Cruz, it becomes even more necessary for them to add another legit MLB hitter — probably someone who can play the outfield but also hit well enough to hold down regular DH work.
Will the Twins add one starter or two (or more)?
My initial reaction was that the Twins would add another starter via the Kenta Maeda trade model and then potentially sign one as well. However, based on what the free-agent market looks like at the outset, it seems to me the free-agent market might be the way to go — at least early.
And maybe that’s the hitch in the whole plan. Everyone’s going to want to add pitching, nobody’s going to want to pay market value and nobody is going to want to be the team to set the bar too low in trade talks. That’s where it could get dicey.
But if someone like Jake Odorizzi can be had for $10 million, that probably makes a lot more sense than for the Twins to dip into their prospect cache to trade for a starter of a similar ilk — especially if the price fluctuates based on years of control for that pitcher.
My initial thought is that the Twins will add two pitchers. Maeda, Jose Berrios and Michael Pineda is a solid 1-3, but they need to add a fourth starter of a similar ilk — again, just my opinion. Odorizzi fits the bill here, as does someone like Kevin Gausman.
And no, it doesn’t really change anything for me that Gausman has been hit with a qualifying offer. The team’s third-highest selection is small potatoes as opposed to signing a legit, solid starter — which I think Gausman is. I think he’s Zack Wheeler at less than half the price.
The No. 5 spot is a bit trickier. Randy Dobnak clearly deserves a crack at that spot. But he also wasn’t slated to go into the season in the rotation, and wound up making the third-most starts of anyone on the team. Having five starters locked in with Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer on the outside looking in, at least in my opinion, is smart. Things always pop up with pitchers — like Odorizzi missing most of this past season.
If the team wants to give Dobnak a better shot at grabbing that spot, they could pair him with another Rich Hill-type in that spot. Dobnak and Hill combined could definitely give a team 200 innings or at least league-average production, you’d think. There are a ton of pitchers in this grouping, like Jake Arrieta, Cole Hamels, Corey Kluber and Jose Quintana.
Another option would be a guy like Charlie Morton, who will likely go year-to-year at this point in his career and won’t be much of an impedance for a guy like Jordan Balazovic and/or Jhoan Duran over the long haul.
The upshot is this: I think the Twins go for a longer-term solution in the No. 4 starter spot, and a shorter-term, or almost platoon-type guy at the No. 5 spot with Dobnak in that mix as well.
How soon can the Twins rely on some of the kids?
This is tricky because of how the 2020 season was disjointed for non-roster players. Some prospects like Trevor Larnach, Alex Kirilloff and Royce Lewis were stationed at the alternate training site for the entire season. And while that may not have maximized their development like a normal year, but it was the best of a bad situation.
Players like Balazovic had an abbreviated stint at the alternate site. Other prospects didn’t get any action in St. Paul whatsoever.
Now with that said, Kirilloff debuted in the playoffs. Ryan Jeffers played the most games of any Twins catcher. Jorge Alcala was a key part of a very good Twins bullpen down the stretch.
The writing on the wall is that left field will be up for grabs. Will the Twins play service-time games with Kirilloff? Will they simply decide he does, in fact, need a little time facing pitching in actual games? Will there be actual games?
The Jeffers issue is also tricky. He really only got the opportunity because Garver got injured. He doesn’t make much of a catching tandem with Garver. He was good enough that sending him back to the minors would probably raise a few eyebrows.
The other issue is just how many starting spots a team like the Twins wants to invest in rookies. Kirilloff and Jeffers wouldn’t seem quite like your typical rookies — like maybe a Lewis, who is more toolsy than polished and perhaps more likely to need a longer adjustment period — but the Twins will probably want an insurance policy for one or the other.
Will the Twins opt for a one-year patch in left field or someone who can double as a utility guy who can handle left? Will they let Jake Cave and LaMonte Wade Jr. duke it out for playing time until one of the kids is ready?
Or will they simply bite the bullet and bring back Eddie Rosario for one more go-round in his last year of arbitration eligibility. I don’t think that’ll happen, but nothing can be ruled out.
What’s the plan in the bullpen? If Taylor Rogers isn’t the closer, who is?
The bullpen was very good last year. Only five teams had lower ERAs from their relievers. No team had a higher fWAR (3.6).
But with that said, Sergio Romo, Trevor May and Tyler Clippard are free agents. Rogers still might be on the non-tender chopping block.
There is some talent behind all of these guys. Tyler Duffey was one of the very best relievers in baseball last year. Alcala looked promising. The second act of Caleb Thielbar’s career was such a fun storyline.
But how much can Rocco Baldelli rely on guys like Cody Stashak? Can Matt Wisler have an encore in 2021? Can the Twins turn someone like Ian Gibaut into the next Wisler? How close is Edwar Colina to helping the Twins?
The Twins will probably need to add at least one, and probably two relievers. There are going to be a ton of capable guys out there, ranging from guys like Liam Hendriks at the top end to countless reclamation types cut from the same cloth as Trevor Rosenthal a year ago.
I don’t think they should non-tender Rogers, but it’s still unclear if that’ll be the case. If he’s not back, it make sense for Duffey to close — but Rocco has shown he’s not married to a static closer, either. Maybe someone like Wisler could close and Duffey could work in an earlier fireman role. It’s still too soon to say.
Who is the backup shortstop?
That player isn’t on the roster right now. I don’t think Lewis is ready for that kind of role — nor is he likely to come to the big leagues without a starting spot — and Nick Gordon simply can’t be considered for that role at this point. He might not even be on the 40-man roster at the end of the offseason, for what it’s worth.
It would be prudent for the Twins to bring back Ehire Adrianza, I think. He’s a capable defender at short, a decent hitter — 2020 notwithstanding — and wouldn’t be a budget buster as the Twins look to fill in a few other spots with higher-end players.
With that said, the Twins could also kill two birds with one stone and pick up a utility player who can handle left field and short. It’s unclear if Jurickson Profar can play any short at this point — he was behind Fernando Tatis Jr. in that pecking order this season — but hasn’t played the position at all since 2018 with the Rangers.
Kiké Hernández is another option — and he can play left, especially — but he hasn’t played much shortstop in the big leagues, either. Of course, he’s been behind some pretty good players with the Dodgers as well, like Corey Seager and Chris Taylor.
The Twins will likely have to add two infielders — with one being the answer to the next question…
What happens if Josh Donaldson can’t stay healthy?
The Twins won’t have Marwin Gonzalez to lean on if Donaldson battles injury issues next season — well, unless he re-signs, obviously. But it’s pretty clear the Twins can’t start the 2021 season with Travis Blankenhorn and Adrianza as the backup infielders. They need some sort of insurance policy — and that might be where someone like Hernandez or Profar comes into play.
There are a few other options in play, as well. #OldFriend Jonathan Schoop, Jonathan Villar, Jedd Gyorko and Tommy La Stella represent help at a few different levels in the infield — and Villar can play some in the outfield as well.
Another extremely outside option could be for the Twins to add a starting shortstop and use Luis Arraez and Jorge Polanco as a mix-and-match at second base and all over the infield. That isn’t very likely at all, but with guys like Marcus Semien, Didi Gregorius and Andrelton Simmons available, it can’t be outright ignored, either.
Simply put — the Twins need a guy they can play on the dirt who can start 15-20 games in a row without looking stretched.
Same question — but for Byron Buxton
The Twins are pretty well protected with Max Kepler and Cave on the roster — and even Wade — but if they don’t add a left fielder or a fourth outfielder, do they roll with an outfield of Cave-Buxton-Kepler with Wade as the fourth, with Kirilloff and Larnach waiting in the wings?
Do they add someone like Brett Gardner (not him, specifically) or another short-term fix? Do they go a little longer term in Michael Brantley? Do they go all out and grab George Springer?
I don’t think either of the latter two are even remotely likely, but again, this is where a player who can move all around might help. Villar might be the fit here, and he’s coming off a dreadful season in 2020.
He’s heading into his age-30 season coming off hitting just .232/.301/.292 with two teams last season, but he was worth 6.0 fWAR in the previous two years combined with 75 steals, 38 homers and respectable defensive marks as well.
He’s played for five teams in the last five seasons and four in the last three, but if he checks all the boxes in terms of a clubhouse fit, he could be a really nice addition as insurance not only for Donaldson, but Buxton as well. He could be a Profar-like addition at a cheaper price.
What players will the Twins protect in the Rule 5 draft?
So my go-to resource for this is, well, Roster Resource.
These are the guys they list as Rule 5 eligible who I think merit some consideration for a 40-man spot:
Ben Rortvedt - C
Yunior Severino - IF
Wander Javier - IF
Jose Miranda - IF
Andrew Bechtold - IF
Jimmy Kerrigan - OF
Akil Baddoo - OF
Gabriel Maciel - OF
Jacob Pearson - OF
Charlie Barnes - SP
Griffin Jax - SP
Jordan Balazovic - SP
Bailey Ober - SP
Bryan Sammons - SP
Melvi Acosta - SP
Luis Rijo - SP
Ryley Widell - SP
Tom Hackimer - RP
Ryan Mason - RP
Calvin Faucher - RP
Derek Molina - RP
My gut says the team will be a lot less aggressive with protection lists because teams — even with 26-man rosters — will be less apt to take and keep Rule 5 guys this offseason with so many of their own guys they need to evaluate.
So with that said, I don’t think they’ll protect the younger/lower-level guys like Miranda, Javier or Baddoo. The Twins didn’t protect Jax last year, and Barnes didn’t show enough at a high enough level to merit consideration, I don’t think.
In all honesty, I think Balazovic is a given. Rortvedt is a maybe because his defense is good enough to hang at this level. I could see him being taken in the Rule 5 draft a la Stuart Turner a few years ago. If Bechtold was younger, I’d like his chances more.
Luis Rijo hasn’t pitched above Low-A in the Twins organization — and only six innings above it at all — but I think he’s shown enough that he could be added. Bailey Ober’s numbers jump completely off the screen — 0.69 ERA between three levels in 2019, 11.4 K/9 and 1.0 BB/9 — so I think he’s in the mix, too.
Maciel’s approach is good enough that I think the Twins could give him a long look at a roster spot as well, but he’s — like many others — so far away that it might be a hard pill to swallow.
Relievers are so hard to figure out, but Molina, Faucher, Mason and Hackimer have numbers that are awfully hard to ignore.
Givens: Balazovic, Ober
Leaning yes: Rijo
Possibles: Rortvedt, Maciel, Acosta, Hackimer, Mason, Faucher, Molina
Total wild cards: Javier, Severino, Baddoo, Miranda, Bechtold
What do they realistically need to do to hold off the White Sox in 2021?
It’s so open-ended at this point. If the White Sox land a big fish like Trevor Bauer or Springer, the Twins are absolutely on notice. If the White Sox aren’t able to fill their holes in RF-DH-SP with higher-end talents, the Twins probably go into 2021 as the slight favorite.
I would say the Twins need to add one No. 2-type starter, a very good utility player and two good relievers to maintain their spot as the favorite. Beyond that, I think they’ll possibly/probably add another starter, another lower-end utility player and some more lottery ticket-types at SP and RP.