The Twins stunned the baseball world with one of the largest annual-value contracts ever given by any team but took a patchwork approach to bolstering a rotation that needed quite a bit of help.
Major League Contracts
- Carlos Correa, SS: Three years, $105.3MM
- Dylan Bundy, RHP: One year, $5MM (includes $1MM buyout of $11MM club option for 2023)
- Chris Archer, RHP: One year, $3.5MM (includes $750K buyout of $10MM mutual option for 2023)
- Joe Smith, RHP: One year, $2.5MM
- Total 2022 spending: $46.1MM
- Total overall spending: $116.3MM
Trades and Claims
- Acquired RHP Sonny Gray and minor league RHP Francis Peguero from the Reds for minor league RHP Chase Petty
- Acquired SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa and minor league RHP Ronny Henriquez from the Rangers for C Mitch Garver
- Acquired 3B Gio Urshela and C Gary Sanchez from the Yankees for SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa, 3B Josh Donaldson and C Ben Rortvedt
- Acquired RHPs Chris Paddack and Emilio Pagan and a PTBNL from the Padres for LHP Taylor Rogers, LF Brent Rooker and cash
- Claimed RHP Trevor Megill off waivers from the Cubs (later non-tendered, re-signed to minor league deal)
- Claimed RHP Jharel Cotton off waivers from the Rangers (since outrighted to Triple-A)
- Claimed C Jose Godoy off waivers from the Giants (since outrighted to Triple-A)
- Claimed RHP Jhon Romero off waivers from the Nationals
Notable Minor League Signings
- Tim Beckham, Daniel Robertson, Derek Fisher, Chance Sisco, Curtis Terry, JC Ramirez, Jake Faria, Daniel Gossett, Jake Petricka, Dereck Rodriguez, Chi Chi Gonzalez
The most pressing order of business for the Twins this winter began months before the offseason commenced. July extension talks with Byron Buxton didn’t bear fruit, and the Twins seriously entertained the idea of trading their uber-talented but injury-prone center fielder. Minnesota hung onto Buxton in the end, and those summer talks ultimately served as groundwork for a seven-year, $100MM extension that comes with substantial upside for both parties.
Even a partial season of Buxton is often worth the $14.28MM annual base value on the deal, but Buxton can earn up to $8MM annually based on MVP voting and $2.5MM annually based on plate appearances. It’s a fitting middle ground between a homegrown player who stands out as one of baseball’s best raw talents and a mid-market team that has been perennially vexed by Buxton’s durability woes.
Buxton will earn $10MM this year and $15MM annually from 2023-28, enjoying full no-trade protection from 2023-26 before his 10-and-5 rights kick in and grant him veto power over any trade for the remainder of the deal. In essence, the deal locks the 28-year-old Buxton in as a Twin through age 35. Whether he’ll ever remain healthy enough to reach those MVP-based incentives is anyone’s guess, but the Twins’ payroll bar only figures to increase from this year’s $138MM mark over the life of the contract. It stands to reason that they’ll eventually be staking under 10% of their annual payroll on Buxton’s upside. Viewed through that lens, it’s a reasonable gamble to take.
Buxton negotiations aside, starting pitching was the Twins’ clearest need. Their only locks for the 2022 rotation were right-handers Bailey Ober, who quietly posted solid results as a rookie last season, and Joe Ryan, whom they acquired from the Rays in last summer’s Nelson Cruz trade. With a deep crop of free-agent starters available and several high-profile names on the trade market, it was a good offseason to be on the hunt for pitching.
If you’d told Twins fans in November that they’d spend a total of $116MM in free agency, most would’ve assumed nearly the entire slate would’ve been dedicated to pitching. Instead, the Twins gave the fourth-ever largest annual value to a position player and didn’t sign a free-agent pitcher for more than $5MM.
That $5MM sum went to right-hander Dylan Bundy — their lone pre-lockout addition. It’s a roll of the dice that might not have excited many Twins fans, but it was sensible enough. Bundy’s 2020 was outstanding, and he got out to a strong start with the Halos in ’21 as well before a series of ineffective performances cost him his rotation spot. Eventually, a shoulder strain ended Bundy’s season in August.
The extent to which his struggles can be attributed to that balky shoulder isn’t certain, but his time with the Angels was split evenly between good and bad. In 17 starts from Opening Day 2020 to early May 2021, Bundy totaled 101 2/3 innings of 3.54 ERA ball with a 27% strikeout rate and 6.3% walk rate. In 17 appearances from May 8 through his season-ending IL stint, Bundy logged 54 2/3 innings of 6.72 ERA ball with greatly inferior strikeout (17.6%) and walk (10%) rates.
It’ll be a bargain if Bundy pitches well — to their credit, so far so good on that front — and the fact that there’s an affordable $11MM club option for 2023 sweetens the pot. Still, it was nevertheless a notable surprise that the Twins didn’t do more pre-lockout. Adding Bundy to serve as a fourth or fifth starter is fine, but the Twins more or less idled as nearly every big name pitcher — Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Robbie Ray, Kevin Gausman, Marcus Stroman, Eduardo Rodriguez — signed elsewhere before the lockout.
That seemed to portend a focus on the trade market, which did indeed happen — but only to an extent. Minnesota struck quickly after the transaction freeze lifted, adding Sonny Gray and minor league righty Francis Peguero in a deal that sent 2021 first-rounder Chase Petty to the Reds. Gray looked like a solid next step after Bundy. Getting two years of him (plus a live-armed lottery ticket) in return for a high-risk high school righty who might be four to five years from MLB readiness made some sense for both the Twins and Reds, given the two teams’ trajectories.
However, the Twins didn’t match the Giants’ two-year offer for lefty Carlos Rodon, never had a chance on Clayton Kershaw, and were spurned by Zack Greinke, who took a similar offer from the Royals because he preferred to return to his origins in Kansas City. Eventually, they agreed to an incentive-laden deal with talented but oft-injured righty Chris Archer. As with Bundy, it’s a reasonable price in a vacuum. Archer’s $3.5MM guarantee is a drop in the bucket for most MLB franchises, and if he unlocks any significant portion of the hefty $9.5MM of incentives baked into the deal, it’ll be because he’s pitching well enough to justify that cost.
At the same time the Twins were closing that deal, the trade market was beginning to dry up. Reds GM Nick Krall all but announced that neither Tyler Mahle nor Luis Castillo would be traded, leaving the Twins (and others) to focus primarily on Athletics hurlers Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas. The latter understandably proved more alluring, given his extra year of team control, but Twins fans (and many others) still raised an eyebrow when Manaea, a free agent at season’s end, was traded to the Padres for what was widely considered to be a light package.
That trade perhaps partially paved the way for the Twins to buy low on former top prospect and Rookie of the Year candidate Chris Paddack, whom they acquired from San Diego alongside Emilio Pagan and a player to be named later (later revealed as pitching prospect Brayan Medina) on Opening Day. That swap sent All-Star closer Taylor Rogers, who ended last year on the shelf with a ligament injury in his pitching hand, and corner outfielder Brent Rooker back to the Padres.
Rogers is a free agent at season’s end, whereas the Twins can control Paddack through 2024 and Pagan through 2023. Minnesota had a surplus of controllable corner outfielders, likely making it easier to part with Rooker. Viewed through that lens, it’s easy enough to see why the Twins would prefer three years of a buy-low rotation candidate with upside and two years of a reliever with an inconsistent track record to one of Rogers — no matter how excellent he may have become in recent years. The swap isn’t without risk, though, and some fans will justifiably wonder why the Twins didn’t make a stronger push for Manaea. Paddack’s 2021 season ended when he was diagnosed with a minor ligament tear in his elbow, which creates some clear downside moving forward. His overall performance has also fallen off since an outstanding rookie season in 2019.
If the Twins can get Paddack back to his 2019 levels, the trade could go down as a steal. But that’s three pitchers the Twins are hoping to rehabilitate in a season they have designs on competing: Paddack, Archer and Bundy. Gray, the most established name added, has had stints on the injured list for back, groin and rib-cage strains since Opening Day 2020, and he’s currently shelved with a minor hamstring strain. He doesn’t have a long history of arm troubles, but Gray also isn’t a 180- to 200-inning workhorse on whom the Twins can bank. Given that their other two rotation members — Ober and Ryan — came into the 2022 season with a combined 25 big league starts, it felt like an underwhelming slate of additions on the pitching side.
Part of that surely stems from the fact the Twins are deep in promising upper-level arms. Right-handers Jordan Balazovic and Josh Winder are among the sport’s best pitching prospects, and Winder cracked the Opening Day roster in a long relief role. Simeon Woods Richardson, Cole Sands, Louie Varland and Ronny Henriquez (more on him in a bit) have all reached the Double-A level at least. Flamethrowing top prospect Jhoan Duran made the bullpen and might stay there this year after an injury-shortened 2021 season, but he could get rotation consideration down the line.
That Duran and Winder are arguably the most notable bullpen additions for the Twins is another perplexing outcome — particularly given the trade of Rogers. Minnesota’s lone bullpen pickup in free agency was veteran righty Joe Smith. He’ll help, particularly against right-handed opponents, but there was ample room for multiple additions of note. The Twins, however, have generally been risk-averse when it comes to free-agent deals for pitching under president Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine, and that continued this winter.
That’s not to say the Twins were inactive on the whole, of course. Quite to the contrary. When looking to the position-player side of things, the Twins had one of the most frenzied and chaotic offseasons of any team in the Majors — and certainly the most shocking and unexpected winter in their franchise’s history.
Waiting this long to address the elephant in the room is burying the lede, but maybe that’s emblematic of the Twins’ offseason as a whole. In a winter that virtually everyone expected to center around pitching help, the Twins’ biggest acquisition was a jaw-dropping, 1:00 am stunner that saw them sign Carlos Correa to a three-year, $105.3MM contract that gave Correa — who perhaps not coincidentally is wearing No. 4 in Minnesota — the fourth-largest annual value in Major League history at $35.1MM.
It took a rather unlikely series of events to make that match possible. Pre-lockout, Correa sought a 10-year deal that would top Francisco Lindor’s $341MM total, reportedly spurning a $275MM offer from the Tigers that included multiple opt-out opportunities. That both Corey Seager and Marcus Semien signed with the same team — rather than filling multiple shortstop voids around the league — and that Seager received a $325MM guarantee likely only emboldened Correa, even as he entered the lockout unsigned. What Correa did not count on, however, was that the Yankees would essentially sit out the free agent market entirely and that the Astros would not budge from their maximum offer length of five years.
Other potential suitors had their own reasons for balking. The Mariners are committed to J.P. Crawford at shortstop and president Jerry Dipoto stressed that he planned to target free agents willing to play multiple positions. The Tigers, rather than reengaging, simply pivoted and signed Javier Baez for half of their reported offer to Correa. The Red Sox opted not to move Xander Bogaerts from shortstop, defensive shortcomings notwithstanding, and may never have been willing to offer ten years to any player. The Cubs spent most of their money elsewhere and were content to give Andrelton Simmons a cheap one-year deal. The Dodgers’ focus was Freddie Freeman. The Cardinals stuck with Paul DeJong. The Phillies, despite an obvious need at shortstop, embarked on a great experiment to prove that defense doesn’t matter.
Even amid all that market context, the Twins wouldn’t have been a fit were it not been for another stunning sequence of moves. Recognizing their need for a shortstop, the Twins flipped catcher Mitch Garver to the Rangers in exchange for two years of Isiah Kiner-Falefa and aforementioned pitching prospect Ronny Henriquez. The trade netted a glove-first bridge to prospects Royce Lewis and Austin Martin, plus a near-MLB pitcher who now ranks ninth in their system at FanGraphs and 14th at MLB.com.
That trade was a mild surprise but hardly a stunner. Falvey said shortly after the deal that the Twins felt they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add a durable, Gold Glove-caliber defender at a position of need, even if it cost them Garver. But just hours after lauding Kiner-Falefa and his fit with the Twins, Falvey traded him to the Yankees alongside Josh Donaldson and catcher Ben Rortvedt in a headline-grabbing deal that saw New York eat the entirety of Donaldson’s contract while sending both Gio Urshela and Gary Sanchez back to Minnesota.
It’s uncommon to see any player pinballed around the trade market as Kiner-Falefa was, let alone by a Twins organization that for so many years was so conservative in its transactions. The trade of Donaldson and Kiner-Falefa left the Twins with a net gain of more than $40MM in long-term payroll flexibility. It also added a solid replacement for Donaldson (Urshela) and a catcher (Sanchez) to split time with former top prospect Ryan Jeffers, who’ll play a larger role following the trade of Garver. Between Sanchez and Miguel Sano, the Twins could challenge some strikeout records, but there’s prodigious right-handed power up and down the lineup.
That net $40MM gain, of course, proved vital in making Correa a feasible option. He, however, was not the Twins’ immediate focus in the aftermath of the Donaldson swap. Rather, the team set their sights on fellow top free-agent shortstop Trevor Story, reportedly expressing willingness to commit a four-year deal worth more than $100MM (via Dan Hayes and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic). The Twins likely felt good about their chances until the Red Sox upped their efforts and showed a willingness to not only go to six years but include an opt-out opportunity. At that point, as Falvey and Correa explained at his introductory press conference, the agreement with the Twins came together in a matter of hours. Agent Scott Boras, hired by Correa during the lockout, reached out to the Twins’ front office and expressed an openness to a short-term deal. Twins owner Jim Pohlad supported the general framework.
Barring injury, it’s effectively a one-year deal for Correa, an All-Star shortstop with an MVP ceiling who’ll slot into the Twins’ lineup alongside the player selected immediately behind him with the No. 2 overall pick in 2012: Byron Buxton. Slow start notwithstanding, Correa substantially raises the ceiling of this Twins team. He’s arguably the best defensive shortstop in baseball and an All-Star caliber hitter. It’s at least of some note that Correa just this week publicly expressed openness to a long-term deal, though it’s hard to call that anything other than a long shot.
It’s the first time we’ve ever seen the Twins land a player of this caliber in free agency, and even if Correa goes the route of a one-year mercenary, as expected, his signing unequivocally alters the manner in which the Twins will be perceived in free agency. They still won’t be seen as favorites to shell out decade-long deals of $300MM or more, but the mere fact that they made a commitment of this nature will make them more credible threats for high-AAV, short-term veterans. The Twins had never topped a $23MM annual salary prior to this deal, so going to $35MM+ for Correa shows a whole new level of willingness to spend.
Whether the quiet pre-lockout period for the Twins was due to strong belief in the in-house group of arms, a desire to see whether the playoff field would expand, or some combination of factors, the end result is that they’re banking on internal development more than most would’ve expected. That Joe Ryan’s sixth-ever big league appearance came on Opening Day symbolizes that bet.
There’s no chance Correa was seen as a realistic target for the Twins early in the offseason, so kudos to their front office and ownership for adapting and taking the plunge when a unique opportunity presented itself. Only time will tell whether the decision to put so many of their eggs in that basket while eschewing more reliable rotation help can yield a return to the playoffs. But at the very least, the 2022 Twins have a postseason-caliber ceiling and will provide their fans with a look at the pitching staff’s future.