The Twins’ unfathomable postseason losing streak stretched to 18 games when they fell to the Astros during a Wild Card sweep. It’s back to the drawing board for chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine as they look to secure a third straight division title and finally dispel the postseason curse.
- Josh Donaldson, 3B: $71MM through 2023 (includes buyout of 2024 option)
- Miguel Sano, 1B: $23MM through 2022 (includes buyout of 2023 option)
- Max Kepler, OF: $22.75MM through 2023 (includes buyout of 2024 option)
- Jorge Polanco, SS: $17.833MM through 2023 (includes buyout of 2024 option; contract also contains 2025 option)
- Michael Pineda, RHP: $10MM through 2021
- Kenta Maeda, RHP: $9MM through 2023 (contract contains $3MM annual base with up to $10.15MM of annual incentives)
This year’s arbitration projections are more volatile than ever, given the unprecedented revenue losses felt by clubs and the shortened 2020 schedule. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, who developed our arbitration projection model, used three different methods to calculate different projection numbers. You can see the full projections and an explanation of each if you click here, but for the purposes of our Outlook series, we’ll be using Matt’s 37-percent method — extrapolating what degree of raise a player’s 2020 rate of play would have earned him in a full 162-game slate and then awarding him 37 percent of that raise.
- Jose Berrios – $5.3MM
- Byron Buxton – $4.1MM
- Tyler Duffey – $1.7MM
- Mitch Garver – $1.8MM
- Taylor Rogers – $5.3MM
- Eddie Rosario – $9.6MM
- Matt Wisler – $1.1MM
- Non-tender candidate: Rosario
- Declined $5MM club option on RHP Sergio Romo (paid $250K buyout)
- Sergio Romo, Nelson Cruz, Trevor May, Jake Odorizzi, Marwin Gonzalez, Homer Bailey, Rich Hill, Alex Avila, Tyler Clippard, Ehire Adrianza
The Twins put together more-than-competitive rosters in 2019-20, shining in the regular season before continuing their inexplicable postseason drought. The good news for Minnesota fans is that the core group remains largely in place beyond the 2020 season.
Nelson Cruz is the most notable exception, as the 40-year-old slugger will head back to the open market this winter — reportedly in search of a two-year deal. It’s hard to blame Cruz for seeking that guarantee if he’s intent on playing through his 42nd birthday; he’s been an absolute monster in his two years with the Twins, slashing a combined .308/.394/.626 with 57 home runs in 173 games.
If the Twins were willing to meet that two-year term, I imagine this deal would’ve already come together. That’s not to say the two sides won’t eventually get there, but it might require some market pressure to move the team’s urgency. Absent the implementation of a permanent designated hitter in the National League, it’s not clear such pressure will exist. Most contending clubs throughout the American League have their DH at-bats largely spoken for.
Cruz seems willing to wait until there’s clarity on an NL DH (or lack thereof); the Twins could wait along with him or more proactively pursue a replacement. Marcell Ozuna could slide right into that DH spot and see occasional time in the outfield corners. The same is true of Michael Brantley, who has an obvious connection to the Twins in the form of Falvey, who was a former assistant GM with the Indians when Brantley played in Cleveland. Ditto Carlos Santana, who could start at first base and push Miguel Sano to DH, giving the Twins a defensive upgrade.
After Cruz, the biggest question is what to do with left fielder Eddie Rosario. The 29-year-old upped his walk rate to a career-high 8.2 percent in 2020 after years of criticism over his free-swinging approach, and he did so while maintaining above-average power (.219 ISO) and a low strikeout rate (14.7 percent).
One year of Rosario at somewhere in the $9-11MM vicinity is a perfectly reasonable price, but the Twins have a pair of near-MLB-ready top 100 prospects who happen to call the corner outfield their home: Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach. Left field/first base prospect Brent Rooker also made his MLB debut in 2020 and hit quite well before a broken forearm ended his season. The Twins thought so highly of Kirilloff that they not only carried him on the postseason roster but allowed him to make his MLB debut as the starting right fielder in an elimination game. Kirilloff has at times ranked inside baseball’s 10 best overall prospects and is still widely considered in the top 25 to 50.
Given leaguewide revenue losses and the fact that Rosario will earn about 17 times as much as Kirilloff in 2021, it’s not a surprise that Rosario has been mentioned both as a trade candidate and a non-tender candidate. He’d be among the better players we’ve seen non-tendered in recent years, but it’s fair to wonder whether another club would take on his salary and surrender anything in return in a climate that saw Indians closer Brad Hand go unclaimed on waivers when he could’ve been claimed at $10MM. I wrote about Rosario’s trade candidacy back in April and again more recently for Trade Rumors Front Office subscribers, noting that there are some on-paper fits who could at least be intrigued by Rosario on a short-term commitment — the Nationals and Astros chief among them.
Outside of Cruz and Rosario/Kirilloff, the lineup is largely set — although there’s still room to be creative. Byron Buxton and Max Kepler should reprise their roles as center fielder and right fielder, barring a surprise trade of Kepler and his team-friendly contract. Who will seize the bulk of the time behind the plate isn’t certain, but both Mitch Garver (2019) and the younger Ryan Jeffers (2020) have turned in impressive seasons at the plate recently. Catcher isn’t likely to be a top priority outside of a potential depth add on a minor league deal. One could argue that the club should pursue J.T. Realmuto and make Jeffers/Garver available in trade, but that’s a reach.
So where’s the best spot to great “creative,” then? The middle infield — shortstop in particular — seems to present an opportunity. The Indians aren’t going to ship Francisco Lindor to their top division rival, but the free-agent market still has some quality options available. Polanco is a fine incumbent when healthy, but he’s undergone two ankle surgeries since signing his extension and was never a great defensive shortstop in the first place.
A pursuit of Marcus Semien, Didi Gregorius or Andrelton Simmons could allow the Twins to shift one of Polanco or Luis Arraez into the super-utility role that has been vacated by Marwin Gonzalez’s free-agent departure. The other could get regular reps as the everyday second baseman. If the plan is to keep Polanco at shortstop, the Twins could pursue Kolten Wong and install a marked defensive upgrade while still deploying Arraez in that heavily used utility role.
Middle infield isn’t a “need” for this Twins team, but that was also true of third base last year when the club nevertheless won the bidding on Josh Donaldson, recognizing an opportunity to add a potent bat and upgrade the defense in one fell swoop. The shortstop market this winter looks somewhat similar to last year’s third base market in that there are a few clubs with notable holes — Reds, Phillies, Angels — but still a limited enough number that the Twins could jump the market if they strongly feel Semien or Gregorius would be an upgrade. At minimum, the Twins will likely add a shortstop-capable utilityman with backup options Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza now free agents.
As for the pitching staff, the rotation doesn’t look to be as glaring a need as it did this time last year. The Twins will return Cy Young finalist Kenta Maeda as well as righties Jose Berrios and Michael Pineda. In-house options Randy Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer create options at the fourth and fifth spots, and the club has top 100 prospects Jhoan Duran and Jordan Balazovic not far from the Majors.
It still seems likely the Twins will add at least one veteran to this mix, and you could argue that anyone from Trevor Bauer all the way to a steady fourth/fifth starter like Mike Fiers would make sense. Bauer is another player connected to Falvey from his time with the Indians, and Twins bench coach Mike Bell was the D-backs’ farm director when Arizona drafted Bauer with the No. 3 pick.
It doesn’t seem likely that the Twins would outbid the field to sign Bauer, but they could technically have the payroll space to do it — especially if Rosario departs. Subtracting Rosario would put 2021 payroll at about $90MM — a hefty $43MM shy of 2020’s pre-pandemic $133MM payroll. The Twins can at best be characterized as a dark horse in the Bauer market, but they’re a data- and tech-focused contender that has been willing to take on some risk, so they check plenty of Bauer’s boxes.
The Twins’ playoff rotation would look pretty suspect right now if one of Maeda, Berrios or Pineda went down, so it seems more sensible to add a fourth starter with a playoff-rotation ceiling than a run-of-the-mill innings eater. We put the Twins down as our pick for Corey Kluber on our Top 50 free agent list, but they’d make sense for anyone in that high-caliber reclamation bucket (e.g. James Paxton). A more straightforward Jake Odorizzi reunion would also work, and the trade market could again create some opportunities; Yu Darvish, Sonny Gray and Blake Snell are all already seeing their names circulate on the rumor mill. The Twins reportedly offered Darvish $100MM as a free agent, and they were interested in Gray when the Yankees initially shopped him two years ago.
The Twins’ current slate of losses in the bullpen are tough to overlook. Trevor May has quietly been a lights-out power arm for them, and the potential departures of Romo and Clippard eliminate two more quality setup men. Clippard proved vital in 2020, as the Twins used the changeup specialist as a big weapon against left-handed batters early in the year when they were still absent a lefty setup complement to southpaw Taylor Rogers.
Speaking of Rogers, he’s coming off something of a down season and will likely see his arbitration price tick north of $5MM, though it’s tough to imagine a non-tender of the 29-year-old. Rogers, breakout righty Tyler Duffey and slider-spamming waiver gem Matt Wisler figure to handle plenty of high-leverage spots moving forward, but it’d be a surprise if the Twins didn’t bring in a veteran or two.
Reunions with any of May, Romo or Clippard seem plausible, but with regard to May, it’s important to note that the most expensive free-agent contract the Twins have promised to a reliever was Addison Reed’s two-year, $16.75MM deal. The club spent big to keep incumbent closers Joe Nathan and Glen Perkins at one point, but this is not an organization that has been willing to commit high-dollar contracts to free-agent relievers. If May’s elite velocity and strikeout rates make him one of the market’s buzzier relievers, as we expect at MLBTR, he could price himself past a point at which we’ve seen this team spend for a reliever in an open-market setting.
The extent to which any club will spend this winter can’t be known, but owner Jim Pohlad’s comments have been less grim than some of his ownership counterparts around the game. The Twins were one of the few organizations in MLB not to make an aggressive wave of layoffs and were among the first to commit to paying minor leaguers the weekly $400 stipend through season’s end.
“The pandemic is hard on everybody, and we have to have some degree of compassion and empathy in that regard as how difficult it is on individuals,” Pohlad told the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s La Velle E. Neal III after the season. “If we are able to continue to pay people, we want to do that. It is a cultural philosophy.”
Pohlad also acknowledged to Neal that he has not yet gotten over another early playoff exit, and Falvey gave a similar stance while talking of taking the team to the next level. Asked about a potential major free-agent splash, Pohlad was guarded but not completely dismissive:
We could, but we don’t know what the market for such a player is going to be. In a sense there has been, in my view — and I’m not speaking for the players or the union — there has to be some degree of risk sharing here.
Perhaps Pohlad saying the Twins “could” make a splash was purely lip service. Certainly, pushing the notion of players sharing the risk doesn’t seem like a portent for a fast-and-loose spending spree. But the Twins might have a bit of wiggle room if they move on from Rosario, and it’s hard to imagine that yet another pair of playoff losses hasn’t enhanced the urgency to break that streak.
The Twins will need to determine what to do with the veritable engine of the “Bomba Squad” (Cruz) and look for some supporting characters on the pitching staff. As is the case with so many clubs following this year’s absence of fans, the primary unknown for the Twins is the extent to which ownership will spend to bring about those changes. Their payroll picture is in good enough shape that it’s reasonable to expect the Twins to be in on some mid-tier free agents and affordable trade targets regardless. And if Pohlad is willing to surprise again a year after spending on Donaldson, they could emerge as a dark horse for some bigger names.