What Might it Cost to Retain Twins Free Agents?
Like Ted DiBiase used to say -- Everybody's got a price!
So…since the Minnesota Twins aren’t playing anymore, we can turn our attention to the offseason. Of course, until the 2020 postseason is over, we’re kind of in a weird holding pattern without much new happening to analyze.
And while we might dig into what happens on the field over the next few weeks — especially since there are still a few former Twins playing — we’ll also kick into offseason mode to think about what the team can do this winter to get better for what we fervently hope is a normal(ish) 2021 season.
The Twins have eight players who are eligible for free agency this winter — it was nine until Homer Bailey was DFA’d and released just before the regular-season ended — and it’s a foregone conclusion that not all of them will be back.
So for our first foray into offseason #content, let’s take a look at what we’re thinking it might cost to bring each of these players back once they hit free agency (or if they sign an 11th-hour deal beforehand, though that’s pretty unlikely at this point).
DH Nelson Cruz - $12 million in 2020*
Cruz barely skipped a beat in 2020 — technically his age-39 season though he turned 40 before it started — with a .303/.397/.595 slash line and 16 homers in 53 games. If there was any sort of negative to hone in on, it’s that he closed the regular season hitting just .154/.267/.256 over his final 11 games.
Of course, then you’d have to also consider that he hit .342/.432/.685 with 15 homers in his first 42 games — a 58 homer pace in 162 games.
There’s no denying that at some point Cruz will stop hitting — it’s just a matter of when. But people have been saying this dating back to when he signed with the Seattle Mariners, which was six years ago.
Cruz is good for the team on the field and for the team’s culture off it, but the worry here is that if/when he hits the free market, there’ll be twice the market as there was for him last time he was available. That’s because there’s still talk that the National League could incorporate the designated hitter on a full-time basis, thus making him a fit on every team in the league rather than half of them.
That’s going to be the biggest obstacle to retaining Cruz.
Likelihood of retention: Probably the strongest of all impending Twins free agents, so we’ll go about 60 percent. The Twins need him more than he needs them, and they know it.
Likely cost of retention: Probably a two-year deal in the vicinity of $30 million — or maybe one year with an option. I’ve written this elsewhere, but the Twins could get creative by signing Cruz to a one-year deal worth $15 million with an option for 2022 worth $15 million with a $5 million buyout. In essence, that could be a generous retirement present if he opts to stop playing after 2021 — and could separate their offer from the pack.
SP Jake Odorizzi - $17.8 million in 2020*
Not a single thing went Odorizzi’s way in 2020. He didn’t get the multi-year deal he hoped for in the offseason. He didn’t get to make the start on his 30th birthday in Oakland due to COVID. He pitched just 13.2 innings as he dealt with back, chest and blister issues at separate junctures of the season.
The numbers weren’t pretty, but in a sample size like that spread out the way they were, they mean almost nothing in terms of what he’d have brought to the table if healthy.
So in a lot of ways, 2020 feels like unfinished business for Odorizzi, I think. He’s been with the Twins for three years, has pitched well for them and probably isn’t going to find a team that values him more highly than Minnesota does in free agency this winter.
A reunion makes sense. Is it likely? That’s another question.
Likelihood of retention: I’ll say about 50 percent.
Likely cost of retention: I’ve written and/or said this elsewhere, but I think a one-year deal worth $10 million with $1 million every 20 innings makes a ton of sense. If Odorizzi is healthy and throws 200 innings, he gets a nice raise from what he was expecting last season. It’s a win-win for both sides.
RP Trevor May - $2.205 million in 2020*
It might feel like a guy who posts this message after the season is ended has one foot out the door, and I get that.
But at the same time, it rings a little less hollow than if he posts it this January after he signs with, say, his hometown Seattle Mariners or something like that.
I don’t think he has his mind made up about leaving for sure, but it’d cost a pretty penny to retain him — something that doesn’t feel like Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are wont to do based on how they appear to like building bullpens.
Sure, they dealt out some money for Addison Reed, but otherwise it looks as though they’ll prefer to take a few chances here and there on waivers and the lower ends of free agency — Matt Wisler,,,,hello — and otherwise draft and/or develop fireballers who can get outs late in games, a la Jorge Alcala.
Since returning from Tommy John surgery, May has been a weapon out of the bullpen. From 2018-20, he posted a 3.19 ERA in 113.0 innings with 153 strikeouts and 38 walks (12.2 K/9, 3.0 BB/9).
The only real issue May had was his penchant for allowing homers, which seemed to crop up from time to time. Over that span, he allowed 1.4 homers per nine innings, though weirdly enough just 1.1 per nine last year with the rabbit ball MLB used.
Some team is going to view him as a high-octane set-up man, if not a closer. He’s going to get a multi-year deal. It just doesn’t feel like it’ll be with the Twins.
Likelihood of retention: I don’t feel good about this one — 15 percent.
Likely cost of retention: Two years, $18-20 million.
IF/OF Marwin Gonzalez - $9 million in 2020*
Gonzalez gave the Twins what they needed in terms of versatility, but in terms of results it was pretty lackluster. The Twins were in position to swoop when Gonzalez’s market failed to develop in the 2018-19 winter, but the team’s ROI on the Swiss-Army knife wasn’t strong.
He hit just .248/.311/.387 and by Baseball Reference’s reckoning was worth just plus-1.8 WAR. Fangraphs was even more pessimistic at plus-1.6, and that’s just the kind of production the Twins can get from pretty much anywhere.
From mid-August on, Gonzalez’s bat was completely M.I.A. He hit just .168/.250/.269 from Aug. 15 on, yet piled up 136 plate appearances as the Twins battled injuries all over the diamond.
Even though it didn’t work out, signing Gonzalez was the right gamble to take for the Twins in that moment.
Likelihood of retention: Seems really unlikely. Maybe 10 percent.
Likely cost of retention: One year, $7 million.
IF Ehire Adrianza - $1.6 million in 2020*
Adrianza didn’t bring much to the table in 2020, hitting just .191/.287/.270 in just a touch over 100 plate appearances. To be honest, though, it’s going to be hard to evaluate players on such sporadic playing time in such a bizarre season.
Over his four years with the Twins, Adrianza has been a capable utility man who doesn’t embarrass himself defensively anywhere and makes enough contact to do a little damage offensively. If he can give you offensively what he did from 2017-19 — .260/.321/.391 in 788 PA — he’s got some value as a 25th or 27th man off the bench.
Can Nick Gordon give them that? Probably not. Travis Blankenhorn can’t play short. Royce Lewis probably isn’t ready yet. If the Twins think they can find the next Adrianza the way they found the first one — for a song on a waiver claim — they’ll do it. But Adrianza won’t break the bank and he’s a good glue guy.
Likelihood of retention: Definitely far more likely than Marwin. Let’s go with 40 percent.
Likely cost of retention: One year, $1.5 million.
SP Rich Hill - $3 million in 2020*
Hill got much, much better as games went on — both in a micro and macro sense. But he really looked more comfortable on the mound in September, when he held opposing batters to a .190/.261/.316 slash line with a 2.38 ERA and 21-7 K/BB ratio in 22.2 innings.
If Hill is amenable to a similar contract structure as he was this year — though it’ll probably cost a bit more in base salary since his health situation is clearer now than it was a year ago — there’s no reason for the Twins not to consider bringing him back. If nothing else, he’d be a good bridge to Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran in the rotation.
Likelihood of retention: If he wants to keep playing, I’ll go with 45 percent or so.
Likely cost of retention: One year, $5 million with innings-based incentives.
RP Tyler Clippard - $2.75 million in 2020*
Clippard was an unsung hero of the Twins bullpen in 2020. He threw mostly splits and changeups, allowing a .180 batting average on the change and a .238 mark on the split. And while he allowed a .300 average on his sinker, it came with a .234 xBA (expected batting average, via Baseball Savant), suggesting that he pitched even a little better than the numbers indicated.
And the numbers themselves were really, really good — 2.77 ERA in 26.0 innings, 9.0 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9 and a 0.89 WHIP. Opposing batters hit just .202/.235/.309 against Clippard, with a .479 OPS for lefties and just a .607 mark for righties.
In an age where teams are loading up with fireballers, it makes too much sense for the Twins to hang onto Clippard as a guy they can shoehorn in there between an Alcala and a Tyler Duffey.
Likelihood of retention: Probably 50/50.
Likely cost of retention: One year, $3.5 million.
C Alex Avila - $4.25 million in 2020*
Avila kinda did what he does — gets on base, plays pretty good defense and provides a good support system for the existing starting catcher in place. That meant Avila being thrust into duty a bit more than expected in a 60-game season, most likely, but he generally responded well until the team brought Ryan Jeffers along. He’s never going to bring batting average to the table, but he gets on base and is a terrific clubhouse presence.
Teams value that.
But will the Twins go with Jeffers and Mitch Garver as their 1a-1b behind the plate next year? That seems likely. And if they go with a veteran backup again, it could very well be Avila. Or it could be someone like Jason Castro. Or any number of others, as well.
In that sense, it’s a numbers game — so it doesn’t necessarily favor Avila, who could still for sure be back if things line up.
Likelihood of retention: Probably pretty low — like 20-25 percent.
Likely cost of retention: One year, $3 million.
*unadjusted base salary for 2020
All financial figures courtesy of Cot’s Contracts at Baseball Prospectus