While the Minnesota Twins need pitching, they shouldn’t be shy about dipping into free agency to supplement their offensive talent, either.
The most obvious need is at shortstop, where it’s possible the Twins could bring Jorge Polanco back over from second base, but it’s a position that has ample talent available heading into the offseason.
Most everywhere else, the Twins would be adding key depth to ward off any issues with young players taking the next step — the Alex Kirilloffs and Trevor Larnachs and the like.
It’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition to build a strong offense, and while the Twins were great in 2019 (116 wRC+), they were merely pretty good in 2020 and 2021 (101 in both seasons).
Improvement in any form should not be ignored. The insistence that there’s only one path to success in the major leagues is a guarantee that you’ll never find it. Teams can’t have a singular/myopic focus on how to improve a team.
Improve it as much as you can when the players are available. Take advantage of those opportunities.
Again — the Twins do need pitching, and badly. But we’re not focusing on that today. If you're going to comment on that, save your breath. That article is coming.
For now, here’s how I see the free agent positional fits for your Twins:
Infielder Eduardo Escobar
Not only would this be terrific for club and fan morale, but Escobar’s willingness to play first base down the stretch for the Brewers is another curious wrinkle.
The Twins have Miguel Sano and Alex Kirilloff as options at first base, but it’s not unreasonable to think that Sano might spend his time at DH and Kirilloff might play the outfield or need some time in the minors, even.
Escobar shouldn’t break the bank, but would provide solid insurance for Josh Donaldson at third, Sano at first and whatever other middle infield positions he’s capable of still playing heading into his age-33 season. Shortstop is almost certainly not in the cards — he hasn’t really played there since he was a Twin — but a guy who can play first, second and third on a team with injury/consistency issues is not a bad insurance policy.
Infielder/outfielder Jonathan Villar
Villar seems to have a clunker every few years, but in general he’s capable of being about a league-average hitter, swiping a few bags — quite a few, at times — and playing multiple defensive positions.
He might be the most underrated free agent out there this offseason, because guys who can hit a bit and have played second, third, short and center field in the last couple years aren’t necessarily easy to come by.
He’s younger than Escobar, can at least attempt to play short and gives the team added versatility in places they need it (most notably, third and center).
He doesn’t seem to stay in one place for very long, but a two-year deal for maybe $14-15 million doesn’t seem unreasonable for a guy who can play everywhere without embarrassing himself.
It would also leave ample money for pitching.
Shortstop Trevor Story
It’s at this point where the script would be flipped. Allocating this many dollars to a shortstop would likely pigeonhole the team into making trades to add impact pitching.
This is not necessarily a good or bad thing — they’ve shown the ability to acquire solid starters in recent offseasons with Jake Odorizzi and Kenta Maeda — but it just requires a bit more creativity and a willingness to upset the prospect huggers within the community.
Though if you like Jermaine Palacios, you were likely delighted that he returned to the Twins after a less-than-stellar stint in the Rays organization. Upon returning, he slashed a solid .259/.340/.439 at Double-A (as a 24 year old!) and has been good in the Venezuelan Winter League as well (.952 OPS in 78 plate appearances).
But we aren’t here to talk about Palacios.
Grabbing Story here would be capitalizing on the fact that he’s coming off a bit of a down year, and is unlikely to command Corey Seager/Carlos Correa despite the fact that he just might be as good as them on a yearly basis.
If he’d sign for the money the Twins aren’t spending on Jose Berrios — let’s say five or six years in the $20 million per year vicinity — that’s a coup for a guy who had a .909 OPS from 2018-20, Coors be damned.
And while people still whisper about the Coors effect, DJ LeMahieu did a pretty good job assuaging those concerns in his first Yankees contract, one might say.
Story is, at least in my view, going to get something like 50-60 percent of the guaranteed cash Seager or Correa are, and he’s every bit as good. He’s heading into his age-29 season, so even a six-year deal would only put him at 35.
If the Twins weren’t willing to go to five or six years with Berrios because he was a pitcher, the risk of doing so on a position player — especially at Story’s age when the team gave Donaldson the length of the contract they did — like this is a no-brainer.
There’s also really no reason the Twins can’t structure a deal like this, a Byron Buxton extension and add a relatively strong starting pitcher with a payday coming in the near future, as the team still has plenty of financial flexibility built into their payroll structure.
There’s no point in having payroll flexibility if you aren’t ever going to use it. This would be the perfect usage of such flexibility. Even if the price surges to, say, seven years and $150 million, I think I’d do it.
Infielder/outfielder Chris Taylor
Taylor isn’t a better player than Story and he’s a bit older (just turned 31 in August), but it’s hard to argue with his positional flexibility. He’s anywhere from a two- to four-win player on a yearly basis while playing pretty much anywhere, and he’s blossomed on one of the game’s brightest stages in Los Angeles.
Taylor is basically the reincarnation of Ben Zobrist. Can he play shortstop? Maybe. Signing him would have to mean the team is OK with moving Polanco back there in the event that Taylor needs to fill in full-time elsewhere — like third, center or wherever else — and it’s unclear if the team is willing to do that.
If the Twins are, in fact, willing to do that, why not just move Polanco over in the first place, give second base to Luis Arraez and let Jose Miranda and Nick Gordon fight for any additional playing time in the infield?
That would leave added financial flexibility on the free-agent market to add pitching.
But adding Taylor gives the Twins added protection literally everywhere, something that would have been especially useful when Donaldson got hurt early or when Larnach and Kirilloff had the struggles usually associated with players getting their feet wet in the big leagues for the first time.
Those growing pains should improve for those guys, but also might apply in the future to Royce Lewis, Austin Martin, Miranda or any other Twins hitting prospect people are especially excited about. Maybe there wouldn’t be an obvious full-time fit for Taylor on the roster, but he’s the kind of player 30 teams should be clamoring to sign right now.
If the Dodgers had room for him with Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Trea Turner on the same roster, your team does too.
Infielder Marcus Semien
Semien is the best fit in that while he’s coming off a monster season, he’s already shown the willingness to move off short to accommodate whatever is best for the team despite still being defensively capable at the position.
Not only that, but he’s headed into his age-31 season, so he won’t require such a long commitment like Seager or Correa despite being nearly as good as either of those two offensively this past season.
Can Lewis or Martin handle the position in the future? Then Semien could shift to either second or third base — whichever is available based on the end of Donaldson’s contract and whichever prospects push through.
If neither is the long-term answer at short — or maybe are a better fit in center, for instance — Semien can stay there until his defense dictates a move.
Outs above average doesn’t like Semien at short (minus-9 runs in 2020, worst among qualifiers) nor does defensive runs saved (minus-6), but UZR (plus-4.8) does and he received acceptable marks in limited work at short this past season (plus-1 defensive runs saved/minus-2 outs above average).
Regardless of where Semien stands defensively — somewhere between good if you believe Fangraphs and not great if you believe Statcast — his per-162-game averages over the last three seasons are a .854 OPS, 37 home runs and 93 runs batted in. He takes his walks, can swipe a few bags and is almost certainly a better fit defensively than Polanco.
Honorable Mentions (no specific order):
Shortstop Javier Baez - He’s really good but his skill set doesn’t seem like it will age very well. I think he’ll get a lucrative four-year deal.
Outfielder/DH Jorge Soler - He found it again in Atlanta and his second act could be really, really great as a guy who can hang a bit in the outfield but mostly just mash. Would be a good Nelson Cruz replacement.
Outfielder Nick Castellanos - Dude just rakes. He’s going to get paid, though.
Infielder Freddy Galvis - He can hang at short and give you a little bit offensively. If they go this route, they better add big-time starting pitching.
DH Nelson Cruz - It’s probably time to let someone else take the risk of Father Time catching Cruz. It sucks to say that, but the Twins need versatility on this roster.
1B/DH/outfielder Kyle Schwarber - He’s a mauler without a defensive home. He was a better fit a year ago.
Infielder Jed Lowrie - At his age it’s unclear how much longer he can be a capable infielder, but he’ll be cheap and had a really nice year in Oakland.
Shortstop Jose Iglesias - What defensive metrics do we trust? Iglesias can hit a little bit and makes flashy plays but some metrics hate him.
1B/outfielder Mark Canha - Dude is super underrated. He’s not so much of a need but he can move around and the Twins aren’t as stacked with guys in the corners as it might seem. They could use another right-handed bat.
Infielder/outfielder Leury Garcia - He’s also underrated. He can play all over and it’d be cool to keep him in the division. Could he be sneaky good if he could hang at short on a semi-regular basis? I think so. Too bad the White Sox have a stud there.