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The Twins Should Trade for Marco Gonzales
Nobody can really be sure what to reasonably expect the Minnesota Twins to spend for their 2021 payroll.
According to Cot’s Contracts, the Twins would have settled in somewhere in the vicinity of $130 million or so if the 2020 season had gone to plan. Will they reach that mark in 2021? Most likely not, but the reality is that we have zero idea what the offseason will entail.
Every time we’ve thought the Derek Falvey and Thad Levine-led Twins were done in an offseason, they’ve added more. If the Twins are at $125 million next January and there’s still an impact player on the board that fits one of their needs, it doesn’t feel like they’re going to be hamstrung in an attempt to add that player.
Beyond that, the Twins appear to be one of the franchises who’ve been as aggressive as anyone as it pertains to keeping organizational structure intact. While teams like the Chicago Cubs are slashing their staffs by even as many as 100 people, the Twins appear to have remained steadfast in their desire to keep things going as-is.
Would that apply to the on-field roster? Maybe not. If we’re being honest, everyone who is part of the day-to-day operations probably makes as much salary-wise combined as a big-league journeyman does in a single season, so trying to project much on that basis is a fool’s errand, if nothing else.
The best we can do is assess how Falvey and Levine have conducted business over their entire tenure with the team, and artificially temper expectations a bit due to the uncertainty that, quite frankly, exists across the entire league.
With that said, let’s talk about pitching — starting pitching, more specifically.
There’s a fair amount of it available this winter, spanning all sorts of quantity and quality. There’s Trevor Bauer at the top end, guys like Marcus Stroman and Masahiro Tanaka someplace behind him and plenty of intriguing guys like Robbie Ray, Jose Quintana and James Paxton, just to name a few.
The competition should be fairly strong for each of these pitchers — again, conceding we don’t know a ton about what the market will look like — so it’d be fairly easy to see the prices quickly spiral out of the comfort levels the Twins have at those tiers.
Is there a Zack Wheeler-type for the Twins to hone in on and spend big bucks? Bauer is better than Wheeler and will cost perhaps quite a bit more — at least on a per-season basis.
With Wheeler, the price soared because there was ample statistical evidence he could still improve in the future — even though he was coming off his age-29 season.
It’s by no means a slight on Bauer, but it’s hard to imagine he could get even better than he was in 2020. Stroman didn’t pitch in 2020, and even if it doesn’t hurt his market, he’s always favored a groundball-heavy approach rather than strikeouts. He should still get paid, but he’s only once posted a swinging-strike rate in excess of 10 percent in any season — a 10.1 percent mark in 2019.
Teams might view him as who he is right now, which is by no means a slight. He’s also going to be 30 in May, just like Wheeler was when he hit the open market.
Tanaka turns 32 next month, and has been more good than great in recent seasons with a massive home run problem. Getting away from Yankee Stadium should help, but that’s more apt to be a selling point in favor of the teams bidding rather than Tanaka and his agent.
The Twins also have some payroll decisions of their own to make. Will they bring back Nelson Cruz, who will likely command a pretty penny on the open market? Will they bring back Eddie Rosario, who could make in the neighborhood of $10 million in his final season of arbitration eligibility?
Maybe it’s just me, but the writing on the wall is that the Twins will yet again look to the trade market to supplement their already-strong rotation.
Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios and Michael Pineda is a very, very good 1-3. The Twins have some capable options for the No. 5 spot, and will probably be active in the buy-low market. But the No. 4 spot is kind of a wild card right now. Maybe in other years, the Twins could be content to hand that spot to Randy Dobnak and leave the No. 5 spot as an open audition.
That probably isn’t the case heading into 2021 with Cleveland still a viable opponent, Chicago clearly on the upswing and Kansas City and Detroit a bit off in the rear-view mirror, but seemingly improving.
The Maeda trade is the blueprint for me here. The Twins should be, and most likely will be, looking to maximize utilizing their prospect depth while finding a pitcher who has years of club control left — preferably those who are on the cheap(er) side.
I think the Twins are willing to spend big on a pitcher at some point in the future. They allegedly were willing to offer Wheeler a deal around $100 million but his preference for the east coast — and more money, to be fair — won out.
But in such a weird financial post across the entire landscape of MLB, again I keep coming back to the trade market.
To find the perfect trade candidate, I loaded up Fangraphs and started scanning down the list of leaders in fWAR among pitchers. There are a lot of names that you might not have expected coming into 2020, such as Dinelson Lamet, Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, German Marquez, Framber Valdez and a few others.
But why would any of those guys be available? San Diego is on the ascent. Milwaukee is always looking to keep costs down and both of those guys are still fairly cheap. Houston has almost no starting pitching depth to speak of. Nobody quite knows what direction Colorado is going, but if they wanted to move Marquez, he would not come cheaply.
No. 15 on the list is Seattle’s Marco Gonzales.
Would Jerry Dipoto trade….ha. I can’t even get the entire sentence out before the wheels start turning. Even though Gonzales just signed an extension, of course Dipoto would move him in the right deal. Why wouldn’t he? The Mariners aren’t close to contention — but they are making a ton of headway with their cadre of prospects.
Gonzales was absolutely brilliant in 2020. He had a 3.10 ERA in 69.2 innings (3.32 FIP), just under a strikeout per inning (8.3 K/9) and less than a walk per nine. He allowed an average exit velocity of just 86.4 mph — sixth-lowest among qualifiers.
By the way, Maeda led the way there (85.3 mph average).
Gonzales’ numbers don’t jump off the page. For his career, he’s got a 4.09 ERA. This was the first season with an appreciable innings count where he posted more than 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings. Seven or eight years ago that wouldn’t be such a big deal; the average starting pitcher in the AL this year fanned 8.7 batters per nine.
Gonzales doesn’t walk anyone (2.2 BB/9 career) and doesn’t give up homers (1.06 HR/9), but he’s not particularly grounder dependent (41.7 percent against a general rule of 45ish percent for league average). The AL average for pitchers inducing grounders dropped under 43 percent this season; Gonzales responded in kind by dropping his rate to 37.6 percent.
But soft contact in the air isn’t terribly problematic, nor is getting fly balls in front of a solid defensive outfield. That’s something the Twins can reasonably expect to have in 2021 with Byron Buxton and Max Kepler almost certainly occupying two-thirds of the outfield on a regular basis.
Gonzales also induces a ton of popups — 16.9 percent of his batted balls in 2020, to be exact. Maeda, again, was first among qualifiers (18.8 percent), and just one other pitcher separated him from Gonzales in third place — Woodruff at 17.2 percent.
Let’s talk about money for a second.
Gonzales has a really, really team-friendly deal — just like Maeda, though not quite that good:
2021 - $5.25 million
2022 - $5.75 million
2023 - $6.75 million
2024 - $12.25 million
2025 - $15 million team option (age-33 season)
That’s an extremely easy salary to fit into pretty much any budget, and again — it probably wouldn’t be a feasible idea to trade for Gonzales if we didn’t already have Dipoto’s track record on the table in front of us.
So it comes down to compensation.
Now the Twins are, to be fair, pretty deep-pocketed when it comes to prospect depth. And while that generally would make a deal easier to complete, the Mariners have a lot of prospect depth as well — particularly in the outfield.
A good comp for Gonzales in a lot of ways is Quintana — as a reminder, also a free agent this winter — when he was dealt from one side of Chicago to the other.
Quintana was good for about seven or eight strikeouts per nine innings with great command, no homers and a groundball rate just shy of the league average. He never got hit particularly hard and aptly enough also had a really, really good contract.
Quintana was an in-season deal during his age-27 season. Gonzales will be 29 in February.
Quintana was owed about a half-season worth on his $7 million salary in 2017 as well as three more years at a total of $29.85 million. Gonzales has four more years at a total of $30 million — the entire value of his extension which is just now kicking in — and no buyout on the option. In all, it could be five years at $45 million — an astonishing steal in any market.
The Mariners probably won’t want anything to do with Alex Kirilloff or Trevor Larnach in any deal with Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez and Taylor Trammell in their system. All three rank in MLB Pipeline’s top-100 prospects.
The Mariners can ask for Royce Lewis; the Twins will deny that price but in this case — again, in my opinion — ramp up with everything else that’s not nailed down.
So here’s my offer:
RHP Jordan Balazovic (headliner)
RHP Blayne Enlow (nice secondary piece)
SS Wander Javier (lottery ticket)
any prospect of Seattle’s choosing from prospects 11 down
The Twins can’t — or more likely, won’t — match the price of Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease in terms of the high-end of the Quintana deal, but they can still offer a more-than-respectable package of prospects to get something done.
Whether it’s Gonzales, Marquez or someone we aren’t even thinking of yet, I think the worst-kept secret is that the Twins will make their “big” offseason pitching addition via the trade market.
More on the other possible moves in my Offseason Blueprint coming soon.