- Chirinos will face Twins righty Phil Hughes, whom the team has reinstated from the disabled list. The Twins optioned pitcher Gabriel Moya to Triple-A to make room for Hughes, who had been on the shelf with a strained oblique. The 31-year-old Hughes hasn’t pitched in a big league game since July 14, 2017, thanks to the thoracic outlet syndrome revision surgery he underwent in August. At $13.2MM per year through next season, Hughes is one of the Twins’ highest-paid players, though he has struggled mightily since a sensational 2014 with the team. When he was healthy enough to pitch last season, Hughes logged a 5.87 ERA with a meager 30.7 percent groundball rate over 53 2/3 innings (14 appearances, seven starts).
- The Twins announced that Byron Buxton has been placed on the 10-day DL, retroactive to April 15, with migraine headaches. Outfielder Ryan LaMarre was added to the 25-man roster in place of Buxton, who’ll be eligible to return next Wednesday. It’s been a slow start to the year for Buxton after a strong five-month stretch to close out the 2017 season; the longtime top prospect hit .274/.335/.448 in his final 459 plate appearances last season but is off to a .195/.233/.244 start to the season.
- Right-hander Ervin Santana has been cleared to begin a throwing program, per Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The Twins’ top starter, Santana has yet to pitch in 2018 after undergoing surgery to repair his right middle finger back in February. At last check, skipper Paul Molitor conceded that Santana was “a bit” behind schedule, though the start of a throwing program is a positive step for the 35-year-old. Berardino notes that Santana could require as much as six weeks to get back up to speed, however, so it seems as through the Twins will be without his contributions until at least mid-May.
This is the latest entry in MLBTR’s 2017-18 Offseason In Review series. Click hereto read the other completed reviews from around the league.
The Twins had a quiet winter in the 2016-17 offseason under newly hired chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine, but Minnesota’s new executive duo was much more aggressive following last season’s surprise Wild Card berth.
Major League Signings
- Addison Reed, RHP: Two years, $16.75MM
- Lance Lynn, RHP: One year, $12MM
- Michael Pineda, RHP: Two years, $10MM
- Logan Morrison, 1B/DH: One year, $6.5MM (plus 2019 vesting option)
- Fernando Rodney, RHP: One year, $4.5MM
- Zach Duke, LHP: One year, $2.15MM
- Anibal Sanchez, RHP: One year, $2.5MM (Sanchez’s salary was not guaranteed. The Twins released him and paid him $419K in termination pay in Spring Training upon signing Lynn)
- Total spend: $52.3MM
Trades and Claims
- Acquired RHP Jake Odorizzi from the Rays in exchange for minor league SS Jermaine Palacios
- Acquired OF Jake Cave from the Yankees in exchange for minor league RHP Luis Gil
- Selected RHP Tyler Kinley from the Marlins organization in the Rule 5 Draft (Kinley made the Opening Day roster)
- Lost LHP Nik Turley to the Pirates via waivers
- Lost RHP J.T. Chargois to the Dodgers via waivers
- Lost LHP Buddy Boshers to the Astros via waivers
Notable Minor League Signings
- Ryan LaMarre (made Opening Day roster), Bobby Wilson, Erick Aybar (since released), Chris Heisey (since released), Taylor Featherston, Nick Buss, Matt Magill, James Ramsey, Brock Stassi, Gregorio Petit, Jordan Pacheco
- Bartolo Colon, Glen Perkins (retired), Matt Belisle, Chris Gimenez, Niko Goodrum, Hector Santiago, Boshers, Chargois, Turley
The Twins boast a homegrown core of position players, with Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco all being drafted/signed and developed by the organization and all under control for another four-plus seasons. With that group in place, plus veterans Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer and Jason Castro penciled into the lineup, the emphasis for chief baseball officer Derek Falvey, general manager Thad Levine and the rest of the front office was understandably on pitching.
In 2017, Twins starters collectively ranked 19th in the Majors with a 4.73 ERA, 23rd with a 4.85 FIP and 27th with a 4.92 xFIP. Equally damning, the Twins ranked 24th in baseball with 869 2/3 innings from their rotation despite the fact that Ervin Santana was one of just 15 pitchers to top 200 innings (and one of only two in all of baseball to top 210 frames). In fact, if you subtract the contributions of Santana and Jose Berrios from the 2017 Twins, their starters logged a disastrous 5.55 ERA.
Minnesota has help on the near horizon in the form of top 100 prospects Stephen Gonsalves and Fernando Romero, but as a club with postseason aspirations, they never seemed likely to rely solely on in-house options. Minnesota made a strong run at Yu Darvish, reportedly offering him a contract worth $100MM+ before he ultimately signed a six-year deal with the Cubs. It was apparent back in November that the Twins were poised to spend at a much more aggressive rate than we’ve historically seen, but it nonetheless felt a bit unusual to see them in the mix for the market’s top free agent right until the close of bidding.
A finger injury to Ervin Santana, which required surgery and will shelve him for at least the month of April, only exacerbated the club’s need to add arms to the rotation. Minnesota capitalized on the Rays’ need to cut payroll and a stagnant free-agent market to acquire Jake Odorizzi on the cheap and to sign Lance Lynn to a one-year, $12MM deal that seemed unthinkable just four months prior.
While both Odorizzi and Lynn are likely mid-rotation arms, at best, they’ll play a critical role in stabilizing the starting staff — especially now that Santana’s injury may sideline him longer than initially had been hoped. Odorizzi is controllable through the 2019 season, and while Lynn will presumably depart after his lone season in Minneapolis, he can potentially be replaced by Michael Pineda, whom the Twins guaranteed $10MM with an eye toward their 2019 rotation.
The bullpen, too, was in dire need of augmentation. Minnesota relievers ranked 20th in the Majors with a 4.40 ERA last season and weren’t any better in terms of FIP (4.50, 23rd) or xFIP (4.49, 22nd). Beyond that, the departure of veteran Matt Belisle, who quietly rebounded from a dismal month of May to post terrific numbers down the stretch, only thinned out the relief unit.
Addison Reed looked poised to secure at least a three-year pact in free agency, but his market stalled a bit. While relievers were flying off the board and cashing in on significant annual paydays at the Winter Meetings — the relief market was the one facet of free agency that was mostly healthy this winter — Reed remained unsigned. Roughly a month later, he inked a surprising two-year deal with the Twins, though he’s openly acknowledged that geographic limitations impacted his market. Specifically, Reed had his sights set on signing with a team in the Midwest, he told the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier last month.
The Twins also brought in a pair of veterans on affordable one-year deals, inking Fernando Rodney to serve as the closer and Zach Duke to help counteract opposing lefties. While Rodney had a characteristic up-and-down season with the D-backs last year, his velocity and ability to miss bats held strong. Bringing him in to work the ninth inning frees up the Twins to use their best relievers — Reed and 2017 breakout rookie Trevor Hildenberger — more flexibly in high-leverage setup spots.
Despite a clear need for pitching, though, the Twins had one spot in their lineup that looked questionable. Minnesota designated hitters combined for just a .237/.328/.383 slash last season, and for much of the winter it looked as if OBP-challenged slugger Kennys Vargas and light-hitting on-base machine Robbie Grossman would receive the bulk of the duties there.
A match with Logan Morrison looked more and more like an on-paper fit as the slugger’s market failed to develop, though, and the Twins were able to scoop him up at a reasonable rate for the 2018 season. If Morrison can come anywhere close to last year’s .353 OBP and 38 homers, the Twins will be happy to see his $8MM option vest.
For as much as Minnesota accomplished this offseason, there are still plenty of questions surrounding the club. Odorizzi and Lynn are quality additions to the rotation at a reasonable price, but the starting unit as a whole still looks shaky — especially without Santana’s consistency. Jose Berrios tossed his first career shutout to kick off what the Twins hope will be a breakout season, but he’s the team’s best shot at having a true upper-echelon pitcher. If he takes only a small step forward (or worse), then the collection of Berrios, Odorizzi, Lynn, Kyle Gibson and (eventually) Santana looks more like a collection of fourth starters than a legitimately competitive playoff rotation.
Odorizzi and Lynn have been much more than that in the past, but both pitchers saw their walk and home-run rates spike last season. Fielding-independent pitching metrics pegged both Lynn and Odorizzi’s actual run-prevention skills more than a full run worse than their otherwise appealing ERA totals. The Twins have plenty of options in the upper minors, and perhaps Gonsalves, Romero or a sleeper prospect will burst onto the scene and strengthen the group. But as it stands, the rotation looks improved but hardly overpowering.
Minnesota also received a tough blow late in Spring Training with the news that starting shortstop Jorge Polanco tested positive for a PED and will miss the first half of the season while serving an 80-game suspension. The former top 100 prospect had a huge second half last season and was being counted on as a significant factor in the team’s lineup. Instead, utility man Eduardo Escobar will get the lion’s share of reps at short to begin the year. Escobar packs more punch than most utility options, but he’s struggled to remain consistent. Light-hitting defensive specialist Ehire Adrianza will receive more at-bats as well in Polanco’s absence.
Questions persist throughout the young core of position players as well, though that reportedly didn’t stop the team from trying (without success) to broker some extensions. Can Buxton hit like he did over the final four and a half months of the 2017 season and truly establish himself as one of the American League’s star players? Is Rosario capable of repeating his 2017 power surge? Will Kepler figure out how to hit left-handed pitching or is he primarily a platoon option with above-average glovework? There was a cloud hanging over Sano’s head all offseason in the wake of troubling assault allegations brought forth by a former Twins photographer, though MLB deemed that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to issue a suspension. He’ll now need to put that past him and remain healthy for a full season for the first time in his young big league career.
Perhaps the greatest question facing the Twins, though, is what will become of Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer following the ’18 season. Both are set to hit free agency, and Dozier in particular sounded frustrated by the team’s lack of engagement in extension talks. The former eighth-round pick has broken out as a legitimate star in recent seasons but somewhat bluntly told reporters that the team doesn’t seem especially interested in talking long-term. Whether that’s because of Dozier’s asking price or because Minnesota is wary of his age and prefers to turn the middle infield over to Polanco and top prospect Nick Gordon (and, eventually, 2017 No. 1 overall pick Royce Lewis) isn’t clear. But Dozier has very arguably become the face of this franchise, and the lack of extension talks already didn’t sit well with fans. He’ll assuredly receive a qualifying offer if he posts a typical season, which he’ll almost certainly reject. The question then will become if the Twins are willing to match the top open-market bid he receives.
The decision on Mauer, who quietly had a strong rebound season in 2017, is also difficult. The 35-year-old won’t break the bank in free agency considering the devaluation of corner bats, his age and his strong preference to remain in Minnesota — where he was born, raised and starred in high school before being drafted first overall in 2001. But the Twins have to weigh whether they’re better off retaining Mauer into his late 30s, even if it’s at a limited rate of pay, or instead turning things over to a younger player — be it Morrison or perhaps Sano, following a shift across the diamond.
Perhaps Mauer would sign on for a part-time role, but teams are increasingly reluctant to dedicate bench spots to players who can only fill one position on the diamond. Mauer has briefly dabbled in the outfield in the past, but he certainly won’t return to catching following the concussion issues that prompted his initial move to first base.
While their pursuit of the biggest fish in the free-agent pond didn’t prove fruitful, the Twins capitalized on the weak market for free agents as well or better than any team in the league and entered the 2018 campaign with a considerably deeper roster. They’ll play more than 50 games against the trio of the Tigers, Royals and White Sox as they chase the Indians for the AL Central crown. The weakness of the division alone should help the Twins to remain in the Wild Card race, but they’ll need some big steps forward from the likes of Berrios, Buxton, Rosario, Kepler and Sano to be a legitimate division threat.
That’s certainly possible, and if any of that group falters or falls to injury, the Twins will likely have the capacity to further stretch payroll and bolster the roster midseason. Taking on longer-term deals won’t be a major issue, as their long-term payroll ledger is among the cleanest in baseball (zero dollars guaranteed beyond 2019). Paired with a quality farm system and the aforementioned young core, the Twins look poised to be contenders in the Central for the foreseeable future as several of their rivals rebuild.
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Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
1:37pm: Rosario is one of the players who turned down an offer, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets.
9:30am: The Twins were long rumored to be chatting with center fielder Byron Buxton about a new contract this spring. But it seems he was not the only target for an organization that was evidently hoping to enhance the value of some existing player control rights.
Per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, via Twitter, the club pursued long-term arrangements with four other young players as well. Two of those targets are identified in the report: righty Jose Berrios and outfielder Max Kepler.
The remaining pair is not known, though perhaps it’s not unreasonable to surmise that one of them was shortstop Jorge Polanco, who had a solid 2017 campaign but ended up being suspended for half of the 2018 season. Outfielder Eddie Rosario seems to be another likely candidate, as the front office has made clear they see him “as part of the core.” Star third bagger Miguel Sano would also be a hypothetical target, no doubt, though perhaps he was not likely to be approached during an offseason in which he was under league investigation for an alleged assault.
Obviously, none of those discussions led to agreements. Perhaps, though, they could still set the stage for eventual deals.
Buxton, who is entering his final season before beginning the arbitration process, was the most obvious target from the get-go. He turned in a breakout second half at the plate and was an outstanding defender and baserunner all season long. But those previously reported talks seemingly fizzled, leaving the team to renew the 24-year-old’s contract late this spring.
It’s hardly surprising to hear of interest in Berrios, either, as he also overcame some initial MLB struggles to turn in an impressive 2017 effort. He’s a year further from the arb process (and free agency) than Buxton, but that also surely left the team intrigued at the potential value it might achieve. Berrios said a month ago that he had not been approached, so it appears that the chatter took place in the interim.
Then, there’s Kepler, who’s in an in-between position from the other two players in terms of service time. He’s on track to reach Super Two status next winter but, like Berrios, can’t accrue more than six years of MLB time until the end of the 2022 season. The 25-year-old has, to date, been a solid performer, turning in two seasons as a roughly average hitter, solid defender, and good baserunner at a corner outfield spot. Kepler’s profile is not quite as exciting as those of his aforementioned teammates, but at the right price he could also certainly make sense for a long-term deal, particularly if the club believes there’s still some developmental upside remaining to be tapped into.
In any event, none of those players have inked contracts prior to the start of the current campaign. While something could, in theory, come together at any time, Passan does say that all of the players in question turned down the offers they were presented at the time.
Twins righty Ervin Santana has still not been cleared to resume throwing, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press was among those to report on Twitter. He is rehabbing from early-February finger surgery.
When the procedure was announced, the club suggested that Santana might be ready to pitch in the majors within ten or twelve weeks. That would have suggested a return at some point in late April or early May.
At this point, though, it seems that there could be a delay. Santana may need to have his finger examined again by a specialist, Berardino notes, which seems to hint that things aren’t progressing quite as hoped. Given that the veteran righty will still need to fully rebuild his arm strength and re-prepare for the season after missing all of camp, there’ll be a lag even once he is cleared to begin ramping up.
Just what these developments could mean for Santana and the Twins isn’t yet clear. He could bounce back in relatively short order and provide quite a few innings, perhaps obviating any need to find a permanent replacement. There’s still good reason to anticipate that his $14MM club option for 2019 will prove appealing.
In the meantime, though, the team will need to get by without. Beyond the top four starters — Jake Odorizzi, Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, and Lance Lynn — there’s some uncertainty. Potential swingman Phil Hughes is on the DL, as are TJ rehabbers Michael Pineda and Trevor May. There are, though, quite a few upper-level pitchers on the 40-man, most of whom have seen MLB action in the recent past. Tyler Duffey and Adalberto Mejia are the most experienced and could be the first men up.
Twins skipper Paul Molitor revealed to reporters today that the team’s top starter, Ervin Santana, is “a bit” behind schedule (Twitter link via MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger). Santana has been limited to throwing soft baseballs into a screen, and a return in May now looks considerably likelier than a return in late April. Santana underwent surgery to repair an injury to the middle finger on his right hand back in February. When he’s ultimately ready to return, he’ll join a new-look rotation that includes newcomers Lance Lynn and Opening Day starter Jake Odorizzi, as well as returning righties Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson.
- The Twins have released former first-round pick Levi Michael, according to LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (via Twitter). Michael, 27, was taken with the 30th overall pick in the 2011 draft out of the University of North Carolina. A middle infielder who has also tried some time in center more recently, Michael has just never really turned the corner. For an organization rich in young infielders, he evidently was not worth keeping around. Michael did briefly reach the Triple-A level last year after a decent bounceback showing in Double-A, where he slashed .264/.362/.380.
Extension talks between the Twins and Brian Dozier are “dead,” reports ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, who notes that the slugging second baseman has no intention of discussing a long-term deal during the season and will hit the open market next offseason (Twitter link). That much has looked apparent for much of the spring, as Dozier has reportedly been disheartened by Minnesota’s lack of engagement in extension negotiations despite a vocal desire on his behalf to remain in the Twin Cities for the long haul. A lack of an extension, of course, doesn’t mean Dozier’s days in Minnesota are numbered; he’ll assuredly receive a qualifying offer if he has a characteristically strong season in 2018, and the Twins will likely keep up with his market in free agency next winter. It seems probable that Dozier will remain with the Twins for the bulk of the season, as the AL Central features three rebuilding clubs — the Royals, Tigers and White Sox — and looks to be largely a two-horse race between Cleveland and Minnesota even before the season begins in earnest.
- The Rays were already planning on a four-man rotation with a somewhat regular “bullpen day” before getting news of Nate Eovaldi’s need for surgery to remove loose bodies from his elbow, and Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that they’ll now deploy an even more radical strategy. Tampa Bay will lean on Chris Archer, Blake Snell and Jake Faria as its top three starters, and there’s no current plan to replace Eovaldi with another starter. The Rays’ early reaction, per Topkin, is to stick to their plan and see how things go; there are enough off-days early in the year that they can get by with only one required bullpen day for the first several turns through the rotation. It’s tough to imagine that they won’t eventually need to put Matt Andriese back in the rotation or turn to youngsters like Ryan Yarbrough or Yonny Chirinos, however. Tampa Bay’s depth is being tested to extreme levels, as they’ve lost both Brent Honeywell and Jose De Leon to Tommy John surgery after already having traded Jake Odorizzi to the Twins.
- The Twins will roster outfielder Ryan LaMarre to open the year, Phil Miller of the Star Tribune tweets. LaMarre, an offseason minor league signee of the Twins, spent last year with the Triple-A affiliates of the Angels and Athletics, combining for a meager .628 OPS. He’s a lifetime .268/.335/.388 hitter at the Triple-A level (954 PAs) who has seen very brief MLB action with the Reds, Red Sox and A’s.