The Twins finally made their first significant move of the offseason this week, shipping out stalwart infielder Jorge Polanco in a trade that netted big league righties Justin Topa and Anthony DeSclafani as well as prospects Gabriel Gonzalez and Darren Bowen from the Mariners. The Twins picked up a net savings of $5.25MM in the trade as well, which president of baseball operations Derek Falvey has already suggested will go toward adding a bat from outside the organization. One possibility the Twins may be considering, per the New York Post’s Jon Heyman, is a reunion with veteran utilityman Donovan Solano.
It’s unlikely that the 36-year-old Solano would command the entirety of that savings, let alone any resources beyond that point. He played the 2023 season on a one-year, $2MM deal he signed with the Twins after spring training had already begun. Solano didn’t necessarily post eye-popping numbers but was a quietly important piece of the Twins’ AL Central title, turning in a strong .282/.369/.391 batting line with a career-high 8.9% walk rate against a 22.2% strikeout rate (just south of league average but also a career-high mark). That batting line was 16% better than average, by measure of wRC+, and Solano paired it with his typical defensive versatility, logging time at first base, second base and third base.
Bringing back Solano would deepen the team’s bench mix and once again provide a right-handed-hitting complement to lefty-swinging first baseman Alex Kirilloff. However, it’s also debatable whether the need is as pressing this time around as when Minnesota last signed Solano. Royce Lewis has emerged as the team’s everyday third baseman, with Carlos Correa at shortstop. The Polanco trade cleared the way for 2023 rookie standout Edouard Julien to step into an everyday role at second base. Kirilloff is likely to man first base, and the Twins have another right-handed-hitting option, Jose Miranda, as a righty option to pair with Kirilloff.
The 2023 season was an injury ruined disaster for Miranda, as he struggled in both the majors and Triple-A before eventually undergoing shoulder surgery. But in 2022, the former top-100 prospect debuted with a strong .268/.325/.426 slash and 15 homers — including a particularly stout .289/.348/.454 showing following a dismal three-week stretch to begin his career. If Miranda is back to full strength, he can certainly be that right-handed partner for Kirilloff at first base. And, the Twins also have former top-10 picks Brooks Lee and Austin Martin on the cusp of the majors, each adding to the infield depth.
To that end, Heyman notes that Minnesota is also exploring the market for outfield help. Presumably, the target would be a right-handed bat, as corner options Matt Wallner, Max Kepler and Trevor Larnach all bat left-handed. Byron Buxton expects to be back in center field this season after spending last year as a DH following knee surgery but is, as always, a major injury question mark. The Twins have utilitymen Willi Castro and Nick Gordon as center field alternatives, and the aforementioned Martin is also no stranger to the position. But a righty bat who can handle center field still seems like a prudent addition, whether that be a reunion with Michael A. Taylor or perhaps a different free agent like Adam Duvall or Randal Grichuk.
Dan Hayes of The Athletic reports that the Twins have indeed considered Duvall, specifically. The 35-year-old, righty-swinging slugger is capable of playing all three outfield spots but is best suited for corner work at this stage of his career. Duvall ripped 21 homers in just 92 games for the Red Sox last year while slashing .247/.303/.531 overall.
Contact and plate discipline issues have long plagued Duvall. He fanned in 31.2% of his plate appearances last year against just a 6.2% walk rate; in his career, he sports marks of 28.7% and 6.7% in those respective categories. The Twins had MLB’s highest strikeout rate last year, and while they’re subtracting Joey Gallo (42.8%) and potentially the previously mentioned Taylor as well (33.5%), they’ll also surely give more at-bats to young strikeout-prone players like Julien (31.4%) and Wallner (31.5%) in 2024. Adding another strikeout rate of 30% or more could be problematic, but they’re surely weighing that against the benefits Duvall could bring to the roster.
In the rotation, the Twins’ addition of DeSclafani has addressed some of the depth issues, though the veteran right-hander isn’t going to be mistaken as a direct replacement for outgoing Cy Young runner-up Sonny Gray, who signed a three-year, $75MM deal with the Cardinals. The Twins, according to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, were showing interest in free-agent righty Michael Lorenzen before adding DeSclafani in the Polanco swap.
The addition of DeSclafani could well push young right-hander Louie Varland to the bullpen or the Triple-A St. Paul Saints’ rotation, but it’s not entirely clear yet whether it precludes the addition of someone like Lorenzen (a former teammate of DeSclafani’s in Cincinnati). Lorenzen made his first All-Star team in 2023 after a strong start to the season, and after being traded to Philadelphia at the deadline, tossed a no-hitter in his second start as a Phillie.
Things derailed quickly thereafter, however, as Lorenzen — a reliever-turned-starter — looked to fade down the stretch while navigating the tail end of a career-high 153-inning workload. He pitched to an 8.01 ERA in 30 innings following that no-hit gem, eventually being dropped from the Philly rotation to the bullpen. On the whole, Lorenzen finished with a 4.18 ERA, 17.8% strikeout rate and 7.5% walk rate.
Minnesota’s payroll currently projects around $118MM, which is about $37MM shy of last year’s $155MM mark. Earlier reports in the winter suggested a target in the $125-140MM range, so there ought to be room to add someone of Lorenzen’s caliber or a similar starter in free agency, particularly since they’re only on the hook for $4MM of DeSclafani’s salary. Further addressing the rotation isn’t a foregone conclusion, but it remains something for the Twins to consider as the clock to spring training ticks.