The Twins’ best season in nearly a decade ended with yet another first-round playoff exit, and the front office now has its focus shifted to the offseason. Chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine met with reporters today and expressed a need to add some high-caliber pitching to the ranks (link via La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune).
Specifically, Falvey indicated that the Twins will “target impact pitching” both in free agency and on the trade market. While the Twins haven’t typically been big spenders in free agency — Ervin Santana’s four-year, $55MM contract is the largest they’ve ever issued to a free agent or to a pitcher in general — Levine voiced a need for him and Falvey to approach owner Jim Pohlad about “being a little more aggressive” in terms of spending.
Certainly, Minnesota figures to have the funds available to do so. Nelson Cruz’s $12MM option is being picked up, but even with that sum added to the books, the Twins only have about $32MM in guaranteed money on next year’s ledger. That number shrinks to just shy of $11MM in 2021 when Cruz and Marwin Gonzalez come off the books.
A look at today’s just-released arbitration projections from MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz reveal another $46.2MM to 10 players, but Sam Dyson ($6.4MM) will surely be non-tendered following last week’s shoulder surgery and C.J. Cron is a non-tender candidate at $7.7MM as well. Subtracting that pair from the 10 arb-eligible players leaves the Twins with a projected $64.1MM on next season’s books at the moment. Exercising Martin Perez’s option would tack on another $7.5MM, but Perez didn’t make the team’s ALDS roster and struggled down the stretch, so Minnesota could instead opt for a $500K buyout.
That theoretical $64.1MM baseline covers 12 players, and the Twins have several other pre-arbitration assets to help round out the roster. Luis Arraez could very well be the everyday second baseman next season, Mitch Garver will surely be the primary catcher and Zack Littell looks to have seized a bullpen spot. Jake Cave is a likely fourth outfield candidate, and the pitching staff will include some combination of pre-arbitration arms like Brusdar Graterol, Devin Smeltzer, Ryne Harper, Cody Stashak and Randy Dobnak — though perhaps not all to open the season.
Minnesota’s Opening Day payroll in 2019 weighed in at nearly twice that $64.1MM mark, and the Twins began the 2018 season with a $128MM payroll. There’s already ample room to spend fairly aggressively this winter even if they’re only comfortable returning to that previous $125-130MM threshold. If owner Jim Pohlad agrees with any assertion from Falvey and Levine that the team’s metaphorical window is open — Levine joked of “feeling a breeze” from said window today — then the available pool of resources will only grow.
As for where they’ll need to target that pitching, specifically, the answer clearly lies in the rotation. Jose Berrios is the only surefire candidate to return in 2020, as each of Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda, Kyle Gibson and Perez (depending on his option decision) are free agents this winter. Graterol, one of baseball’s top pitching prospects, could eventually find himself in the rotation but is still lacking in terms of overall experience.
The Twins have never made a major splash in free agency in the past. The most aggressive offer they’re reported to have put forth came to Yu Darvish prior to his six-year deal with the Cubs. Minnesota was said to have offered Darvish $100MM or more, though, so while they haven’t actually gotten such a deal done, they’ve at least expressed some willingness. They’d need to catapult themselves into another stratosphere to even get in the ballpark for Gerrit Cole, who could break David Price’s $217MM record for a pitcher this offseason. But the next tier of arms features the likes of Stephen Strasburg (if he opts out the heavily deferred four years and $100MM remaining on his current deal), Madison Bumgarner and Zack Wheeler. Odorizzi, a qualifying offer candidate, could potentially return as well.
Outside of the eight-year, $184MM contract for hometown star Joe Mauer — who was the reigning AL MVP and a year from free agency as the Twins entered a new stadium when he inked that deal — Minnesota has never been considered to be a particularly big spender. At some point, however, that will inevitably change. Whether they’ll be able to convince a top-tier free agent to come to the Twin Cities this offseason and whether they’ll be willing to part with draft picks to sign pitchers who reject qualifying offers (i.e. Cole, Strasburg, Bumgarner, Wheeler) remains to be seen. But with a 101-win season fresh in the rear-view mirror, a relatively small number committed to the 2020 payroll and at least two teams in the division still rebuilding (Kansas City, Detroit), it would seem there’s plenty of reason to push the boundaries heading into 2020.