The Twins parlayed a series of short-term pickups from the 2018-19 offseason, some key prospect arrivals and a series of step-back moves from the Indians into their first American League Central title since Target Field’s inaugural season back in 2010. They also continued a mind-boggling run of postseason futility and are now faced with glaring holes in their rotation as the offseason begins.
- Max Kepler, OF: $29MM through 2023 (including buyout of 2024 club option)
- Jorge Polanco, SS: $21.8MM through 2023 (including buyout of 2024 club option; contract also contains 2025 club option)
- Nelson Cruz, DH: $12MM through 2020
- Marwin Gonzalez, INF/OF: $9MM through 2020
Arbitration-Eligible Players (arbitration projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Sam Dyson – $6.4MM
- Ehire Adrianza – $1.9MM
- C.J. Cron – $7.7MM
- Trevor May – $2.1MM
- Eddie Rosario – $8.9MM
- Miguel Sano – $5.9MM
- Byron Buxton – $2.9MM
- Taylor Rogers – $3.9MM
- Tyler Duffey – $1.1MM
- Jose Berrios – $5.4MM
- Non-tender candidates: Cron, Dyson
- Martin Perez, LHP: $7.5MM club option with a $500K buyout
- Nelson Cruz, DH: $12MM club option with a $300K buyout (the Twins have not formally announced the move, but Cruz’s option will reportedly be exercised, as was widely expected)
Juiced ball or not, no one would’ve predicted the 2019 Twins to set Major League Baseball’s single-season home run record, but Minneapolis’ resident “Bomba Squad” did just that when they belted 307 long balls and won the American League Central by a a decisive eight-game margin. Five different Twins — Nelson Cruz, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and even Mitch Garver — belted 30-plus home runs in 2019, and the Twins will return nearly that entire lineup for the 2020 season.
The only (semi-)regulars likely to depart are Jonathan Schoop — who figures to be replaced by standout rookie Luis Arraez — and perhaps C.J. Cron, who battled a thumb injury late in the season and could be a non-tender candidate. Jason Castro, who bounced back from 2018 knee surgery with a solid year at the plate (101 OPS+) and his typically strong defense, also could be in search of a new home. The Twins could explore the possibility of retaining him in a reduced role, but Garver’s out-of-nowhere breakout has vaulted him to the top of the organizational depth chart and Castro is both young enough (32) and good enough (1.6 fWAR in 79 games/275 plate appearances) to merit consideration as a starter elsewhere.
That nearly the entire lineup is not only under control but is either in arbitration or signed to affordable contracts bodes well for chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine this winter. It sounds strange to say, but the Twins may have more financial flexibility than any contender in baseball. Minnesota currently has $31MM committed to the quartet of Nelson Cruz, whose $12MM team option was a no-brainer to exercise, Marwin Gonzalez, Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco. They have another $46.2MM in projected arbitration salaries to 10 players, but that number will assuredly shrink.
Sam Dyson, acquired at the trade deadline, aggravated an existing shoulder injury following that swap and underwent surgery that’ll keep him out for up to a year. The Twins did their due diligence on the situation and found no evidence that the Giants knew of the ailment, so it seems a case of poor luck that leaves them with a thinner bullpen than they’d hoped. He’s a lock to be non-tendered, which immediately slashes $6.4MM off that arbitration tab.
As previously mentioned, Cron could also be jettisoned this winter. Eleven teams passed on the slugger via waivers last winter when he was projected to make a bit more than $5MM and was coming off a healthier, superior season at the plate. Cron hit .266/.326/.495 with 17 homers in the season’s first half but floundered to a .229/.280/.420 line following the All-Star break. He underwent surgery to repair his problematic thumb last week, which could sideline him for up to two months. While Cron is expected to be ready for Spring Training, that notable raise, poor second half and the uncertainty associated with any surgery all line up to make him a viable non-tender candidate.
If Cron and Dyson are cut loose, the Twins will have about $63.18MM committed to 12 players. That’s barely more than half the $120MM mark at which this year’s Opening Day payroll sat and nearly $66MM shy of 2018’s record $129MM payroll. The Twins won’t necessarily spend $66MM this winter, of course, but the “Falvine” front office duo has given reason to believe that they’ll at least be willing to enter record territory if the right opportunities present themselves.
“I think we feel like we’re getting to a place now where we feel a little bit more emboldened to sit down with [owner] Jim Pohlad and [President] Dave [St. Peter] and talk about being a little bit more aggressive,” Levine said in this year’s season-end postmortem (link via La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune). Falvey, in that same press conference, said the Twins will be in the market for “impact pitching” both in free agency and via trade.
In that regard, it’s a fairly good offseason to be hunting for big-name rotation help. Gerrit Cole will hit the market in search of the largest contract ever awarded to a pitcher, while Nationals co-ace Stephen Strasburg has gone from long shot to virtual lock to opt out of the remaining four years and $100MM on his contract. Also reaching free agency will be Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu and the Twins’ own Jake Odorizzi.
Minnesota isn’t going to be considered any type of favorite for Cole, who many believe will land with his hometown Angels, but it’d be a surprise if they weren’t in the mix for him to some extent. Cole seems likely to break David Price’s $217MM record for a pitcher, and even with this type of payroll space and a front-office tandem speaking of increased aggression and “impact” pitching, it’s hard to envision the Twins winning that bidding. But the remainder of the offseason’s top pitching talent will all fall into a more plausible price range for Minnesota. The Twins have never signed a pitcher for more than Ervin Santana’s four-year, $55MM contract five winters ago, but they did offer Yu Darvish a reported $100MM contract prior to the 2018 season (and they of course paid Joe Mauer a franchise-record $184MM on an eight-year contract).
From a purely financial standpoint, the Twins shouldn’t face any limitations in addressing their rotation. They should also be among the winter’s most motivated buyers, as the only starter they’re returning is right-hander Jose Berrios. Odorizzi, Michael Pineda and Kyle Gibson are all free agents, and the Twins seem likely to buy out Martin Perez’s $7.5MM club option. There are some internal candidates to fill a spot, including top prospect Brusdar Graterol and right-hander Randy Dobnak, who had a meteoric 2019 rise after going undrafted and signing with the Twins out of indie ball in 2017. The Twins’ starting pitching was a glaring weakness against the Yankees in the ALDS, however, and relying on internal arms fill that void won’t cut it. Odorizzi should get a qualifying offer and could either be back on that one-year pact or a multi-year arrangement, but it’s easy to see why the Twins are motivated to add multiple starters even if the 29-year-old returns.
Looking to the trade market, there aren’t many surefire trade targets to pursue. Matthew Boyd will again be discussed throughout the winter, and speculatively speaking, it’s not difficult to see how either Pittsburgh’s Chris Archer or Colorado’s Jon Gray could become available. Depending on the direction things go in Boston, Eduardo Rodriguez could surface in trade rumblings as well. Specific targets aside, the Twins have a deep farm system and could put together an enticing offer for the majority of the trade candidates on this year’s offseason market. Whether the additions come via trade or free agency, it’d be rather stunning if Minnesota fails to add at least two rotation arms — if not three.
The bullpen also represents a potential area for upgrade. Taylor Rogers has emerged as a strong late-inning option, and the Twins enjoyed dominant stretches from Tyler Duffey, Trevor May and rookie Zack Littell down the stretch. But Dyson’s injury and the impending free agency of Sergio Romo leave the Twins with some spots to fill. Minnesota doesn’t have a left-handed setup piece to Rogers, and even if the Twins add a closer to push him down the pecking order a bit, a second lefty would be worth pursuing.
Minnesota had interest in Will Smith at the deadline, and perhaps no free-agent reliever did more to boost his stock following the trade deadline than Drew Pomeranz, who is suddenly a potential multi-year deal candidate. If the Twins prefer more affordable stability, Tony Watson would fit the bill without breaking the bank. Righty options like Will Harris, Chris Martin and Steve Cishek are multi-year deal candidates, but even more so than with starters, there’s really no pitcher on the market that should be considered too expensive (again, from a purely financial standpoint). It should be noted, though, that Addison Reed is the lone free-agent reliever to ever receive a multi-year deal from the Twins.
Looking to the lineup, there’s no glaring need, but the Twins have some intriguing flexibility. A straightforward approach could be to pursue an upgrade over Cron at first base, though the free-agent market is hardly teeming with great options there. A trade pursuit of Baltimore’s Trey Mancini or the Mets’ Dominic Smith would be interesting for the Twins. Alternatively, though, Minnesota could slide Sano across the diamond and pursue one of the many third-base options available. Anthony Rendon isn’t likely to be a priority even if they can technically afford a competitive offer, but the Twins make some sense as a dark-horse candidate to pursue names like Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas. Adding a corner infielder would allow the team to continue deploying Marwin Gonzalez in the super-sub role at which he has become so proficient.
Outfield depth doesn’t seem to be an immediate need, but the Twins could at least entertain the idea of shopping Eddie Rosario around. He’s a fan favorite at Target Field, but Rosario’s defensive ratings plummeted in 2019 as his arbitration price is rising — and he’s never been an on-base threat (.309 career OBP; .300 in 2019). It’s likelier that they maintain the status quo, but the sheer bulk of corner options on the market would present opportunities to capably replace Rosario if another team holds him in high regard. Beyond that, the Twins will likely look to add a backup catcher, relegating Willians Astudillo to utility status again. The GIF-able nature of “La Tortuga” and his “zero true outcomes” approach has made him something of a social media darling, but Astudillo hit just .268/.299/.379 when all was said and done. He could be best suited to fill a part-time, 26th man role.
The Twins almost certainly won’t hit 300-plus home runs again in 2020 — the ball seems unlikely to be so hitter-friendly, and even if it were, banking a repeat isn’t realistic — but they’ve firmly announced their presence as contenders in a woefully noncompetitive division. The Tigers and Royals won’t be threats next season, and while the White Sox figure to aggressively seek upgrades this winter, they’ve got a lot of work to do to improve on this year’s 72-win season. The Indians remain in the fold, but there’s already speculation about Cleveland marketing Francisco Lindor and/or Corey Kluber this winter. Pardon the hackneyed phrasing, but the Twins’ window is wide open.
Falvey and Levine have spoken in the past of being aggressive when that metaphorical window finally does open, and as Levine joked in the aforementioned press conference, the Twins are “feeling a breeze” at the moment. With no luxury tax concerns, $66MM in payroll space separating their likely slate of commitments and their 2018 Opening Day mark, three rotation vacancies and ample flexibility in the lineup, the Twins appear poised for their most aggressive offseason ever.