Twins general manager Thad Levine revealed earlier this week that the team would have to be “really inspired” to trade second baseman Brian Dozier. It’s now possible the Dodgers will do enough to wow Minnesota into dealing Dozier, as Los Angeles is aggressively pursuing the slugger and has “piqued” the Twins’ interest, reports Bob Nightengale of USA Today (Twitter link). The second base-needy Dodgers have been after Dozier throughout the offseason.
Second baseman Brian Dozier has drawn trade interest from multiple teams this offseason, but the Twins would have to be “really inspired” to even consider moving him, new general manager Thad Levine revealed to season ticket holders Tuesday (via Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press). “Teams that are trying to win immediately have a lot of interest in (Dozier) and they should,” Levine stated. “He’s an exceptional player, but we view him the exact same way. We don’t have an immediate replacement. No one’s replacing his 42 home runs. Even if he backs off a little bit from that, we don’t have an immediate replacement for that.” The Twins do have a potential in-house successor in Jorge Polanco, but the 23-year-old would have a tough act to follow in the event of a Dozier trade. In addition to the 42 homers Levine mentioned, Dozier slashed .268/.340/.546 and accounted for 5.9 fWAR in 691 plate appearances last season. The Twins don’t seem close to contending, though, and Dozier only has two years remaining on his contract. Those factors have led to plenty of speculation about Dozier’s future as he prepares for 2017 – his age-30 season.
More from Minnesota:
- New Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey announced the hiring of James Rowson as the club’s hitting coach Friday. “James is someone who possesses all of the attributes of an impact coach and he’s held in high regard by those who’ve had the chance to work alongside him. It was clear to (manager) Paul (Molitor), Thad, and myself that James is the perfect fit for our organization moving forward,” Falvey said. Rowson’s previous experience as a major league hitting coach came with the Cubs from 2012-13. He spent the past three seasons as the Yankees’ minor league hitting coordinator and will now take over for the fired Tom Brunansky.
- Falvey left room for his predecessor, longtime GM Terry Ryan, to remain with the organization in some capacity. Ryan declined, however, and he explained his decision to Berardino. “I’ve been there 30 years. I think to be fair to everyone that’s there, especially Derek and Thad, I probably need to go elsewhere,” Ryan said Thursday. The 63-year-old Ryan, whom the Twins fired in July, joined the Phillies as a special assignment scout earlier this week.
- The Twins have agreed to a $2.6MM price tag with infielder Eduardo Escobar, according to Heyman (via Twitter). He had projected at $2.9MM in his second season of eligibility. The 27-year-old had posted two consecutive seasons of above-average production, but limped to a .236/.280/.338 slash over 377 plate appearances last year.
The Twins announced on Wednesday that they’ve signed free-agent catcher Jason Castro to a three-year, $24.5MM contract, as was initially reported last week. Minnesota, one of the rare teams that discloses financial details of signings themselves, announced that the deal is slightly front-loaded, with Castro set to earn $8.5MM in 2017 and $8MM in both 2018 and 2019. The team’s 40-man roster is now full following the signing of Castro, though they’ll presumably vacate one spot in advance of next week’s Rule 5 Draft, when they have the first overall selection.
Castro, 29, drew strong early interest in a market that featured few immediate, near-regular catching options. With Wilson Ramos carrying a second ACL tear with him into free agency, Castro’s standing was significantly improved — as was that of other top options such as Matt Wieters, Kurt Suzuki, and Nick Hundley.
[Related: Updated Minnesota Twins Depth Chart]
Age was undoubtedly a factor that worked in Castro’s favor, but he also intrigued with his blend of left-handed power and reputation as a framing guru. Though he has never returned to his breakout 2013 levels of production at the plate, and is deficient in the on-base department, Castro has hit double-digit home runs in each of the last four seasons and has historically posted approximately league-average power (in terms of isolated slugging).
In the defensive department, Castro has consistently rated as one of the game’s best at winning borderline strikes for his pitchers (by measure of both StatCorner and Baseball Prospectus). Though he’s average in other regards behind the plate, that leaves Castro as a top-quality run preventer, at least if one accepts the more aggressive assessments of pitch framing’s capacity to impact run expectancy.
There are plenty of limitations to his game, too, of course. Most notably, Castro carries only a .215 batting average and .291 OBP over the past three seasons. There’s a lot of swing and miss to his game (32.7% strikeout rate last year), though he can take a free pass and just boosted his walk rate to a career-best 12.0% in 2016.
With proper platoon usage, though, those problems can perhaps be offset. Castro hit just .149/.237/.241 last year when facing southpaws, but posted a much more useful .231/.331/.426 slash over his 279 plate appearances against righties. Those numbers mirror his career marks, which suggest there’s little reason ever to send him out without the platoon advantage.
For the Twins, Castro represents the first major acquisition of a new-look front office led by Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. With Kurt Suzuki departing this winter — bringing with him a glove that framing metrics were not fond of — that pair set out to find a replacement. Falvey and Levine evidently believe in the value of pitch framing, targeting Castro and staying on him even as the price tag moved to a fairly lofty level.
Minnesota will presumably pair Castro with John Ryan Murphy, who was picked up last winter in hopes he’d turn into a quality receiver. Though the 25-year-old scuffled badly at the plate in the majors, and hit just .236/.286/.323 in his 290 Triple-A plate appearances, he has shown more bat in the past and is considered a highly-talented framer in his own right. The club also just added Mitch Garver, another right-handed-hitting backstop, to the 40-man roster, so he’ll provide another option.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Twins announced on Monday that they’ve hired Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer and LaTroy Hawkins as special assistants in the team’s baseball operations department. (La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported last week that the trio would likely be hired in that very role.) Each of the three will be in Spring Training this year and will serve “as a resource for players and coaches in the mental and fundamental aspects of the game,” according to a team press release. The trio will also be visiting Minnesota’s minor league affiliates throughout the season, where they’ll work in an instructional capacity with the team’s young talent. Hunter, Cuddyer and Hawkins will also work with Twins executives and coaches “to ensure development in player understanding of culture, talent evaluation and organizational vision.”
At the introductory press conference for new chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and new general manager Thad Levine, the latter spoke highly about the impact that former Rangers star Michael Young had on the organization upon joining the Texas front office in a similar capacity to the roles that Hunter, Cuddyer and Hawkins will be taking on with the Twins. While both Falvey and Levine were billed as more modern, statistically savvy executives to help bring the Twins up to speed in that department, the duo also emphasized the importance of veteran leadership and organizational culture in their first formal sit-down with the Twin Cities media. Today’s hirings certainly mesh with those principles.
Each of the three now-former players has retired within the past year, and each was a mainstay on the Twins’ roster at one point in his career. Hunter played parts of 12 seasons with the Twins, beginning with a one-game cameo in 1997. From that point through the 2007 season, Hunter won seven Gold Gloves and made a pair of All-Star Games. He cemented himself as one of the most productive Twins in franchise history along the way, and upon reaching free agency for the final time, elected to sign a one-year deal with the rebuilding Twins to play out the final season of his illustrious career back where it all began.
Cuddyer was a teammate of Hunter’s for most of that first run and enjoyed his own 11-year run with the Twins to open his career before testing free agency following the 2011 season. Cuddyer was a member of each of the Twins’ six American League Central Division Championships from 2002 through 2010 and drew praise in Minnesota, Colorado and New York for his clubhouse leadership as a player before retiring last winter.
Hawkins, whose hiring was first reported by Neal more than a week ago, spent the first nine seasons of his career in a Twins uniform after being drafted by the Twins in the seventh round back in 1991. He struggled as a starter for more than half of that tenure but blossomed as a reliever in the final four years of his time with Minnesota, serving as a dominant setup man for the first two of the team’s division titles.
- The Twins are telling potential trade partners they aren’t looking to deal Brian Dozier unless they get an excellent return, Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press tweets. Whatever their new front office’s actual intentions, it’s not surprising they would take that position — Dozier hit 42 homers last year and is signed to a reasonable deal through 2018, so his trade value should be quite high, and they could certainly wait to trade him if they wanted to. The Dodgers have reportedly had interest in Dozier recently, although a trade does not appear imminent between the two teams.
- Law praises the Twins for dropping Trevor Plouffe, on the grounds that his underwhelming defense makes him approximately replacement level. Law says he is curious to see whether the Twins will now turn to Miguel Sano at third base, since he is heavy for the position and has not been a good defender at the position throughout his career. (UZR and DRS rated Sano around average in 376 big-league innings at the position in 2016.)
- The Twins have been in contact with free agent righty Justin Masterson, Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press tweets. That’s not surprising, since new Twins head of baseball operations Derek Falvey previously worked with Masterson in the Indians organization. Masterson, formerly a solid big-league starter, had an underwhelming 2016 in the Bucs organization while fighting his way back from shoulder trouble, posting a 4.85 ERA, 6.1 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9 in 59 1/3 innings covering two minor league stops.
- Brian Dozier is drawing interest from other teams but the Twins aren’t looking to tie Phil Hughes’ contract to Dozier in trade talks, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tweets. Hughes still has three years and $39.6MM remaining on the extension he signed with the Twins prior to the 2015 season, and since inking that new deal, Hughes has struggled badly and battled injury problems. The veteran righty underwent surgery to help alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome last summer, and Hughes believes he can regain his old form now that he’s healthy.
- While Hughes may not be getting shopped, Berardino also notes (Twitter link) that the Twins aren’t looking to add payroll, even after freeing up some money by parting ways with Trevor Plouffe, Kurt Suzuki and Tommy Milone. As one rival official puts it, “everyone knows they’re rebuilding.”
- Speaking of Dozier, Berardino also tweets that there isn’t much cooking between the Dodgers and Twins in trade discussions. “I wouldn’t hold your breath,” one team official tells Berardino about the chances of a deal.