- Byron Buxton stands out as a prime extension candidate this offseason, MLB.com’s Do-Hyoung Park opines, looking at the Twins’ model in extending Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco last spring. Both of those players were coming off solid but not surefire breakout seasons (Polanco’s year was also marred by an 80-game PED suspension) in 2018, while Buxton is similarly coming off something of a mixed 2019 campaign. He hit .262/.314/.513 with 10 homers in 295 PA while contributing excellent baserunning and center field defense, though Buxton’s year was marred by injuries, including season-ending shoulder surgery that could cause him to miss the start of Spring Training. With this health uncertainty in mind, Buxton could have interest in locking in a long-term payday, though he would be foregoing potentially big arbitration raises in both 2021 and 2022 (Buxton has three arb years left as a Super Two player). Buxton has also achieved some financial security already, with close to $9.5MM in career earnings that includes his $6MM signing bonus as the second overall pick of the 2021 draft. Beyond Buxton, Park figures Jose Berrios and Miguel Sano are also extension candidates.
In the wake of the Nationals’ dramatic NLDS victory over the Dodgers last night, it is perhaps fitting that October 10 marks another red-letter day in Washington baseball history….not to mention Minnesota baseball history. It was on this day back in 1924 that the Twins won their first World Series, though they were still several decades away from becoming the Twins, as the franchise played in D.C. as the Washington Senators from 1901-1960. The Senators beat the New York Giants in a dramatic Game Seven that lasted 12 innings, with the legendary Walter Johnson earning the win after tossing four shutout innings in relief. 1924 marked the franchise’s only Series title in Washington, as the Senators/Twins wouldn’t again win it all until 1987.
- The Twins are already planning to chase some front-of-the-rotation pitchers this offseason, and Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune opines that outfielder Eddie Rosario could be “the logical trading chip” to try and land an arm. Rosario hit .276/.300/.500 with 32 homers over 590 PA for Minnesota last season, and he has 83 total home runs over the last three seasons. After posting a decent .326 OBP in 2017-18, however, Rosario had much more difficult getting on base this past year, and he also didn’t have a good defensive year as a left fielder (though he did fare much better defensively in 2018). Trading Rosario would result in a projected starting outfield of Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, and Marwin Gonzalez, with top prospects Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach all potentially available as late-season call-ups. More veteran outfield depth could also be added at a lower price than Rosario, who is projected to earn a hefty arbitration raise to $8.9MM, up significantly from his $4.19MM salary in 2019.
The Twins and Derek Falvey “could soon complete a new deal” to retain the executive VP/chief baseball officer beyond the end of his current contract, ESPN’s Buster Olney reports. The specific terms of Falvey’s original deal weren’t released when he was hired by Minnesota after the 2016 season, though it was believed that he was signed through at least 2020.
Still only 36 years old, Falvey has enjoyed quite a bit of success since taking over the Twins’ baseball operations department. Brought in to provide fresh perspective within an organization that had perhaps become too insular and old-fashioned, Falvey and GM Thad Levine have managed to both modernize the Twins’ front office while also leading the club to the playoffs twice in three seasons. Minnesota won a wild card slot in 2017 and then captured the AL Central this year with 101 victories, the second-highest win total in the 119-year history of the Twins/Washington Senators franchise. The only downside is an 0-4 record in the postseason, losing all four games to the Yankees (who have dominated the Twins for the better part of two decades).
Perhaps most importantly, Minnesota is well-positioned to remain in contention going forward. Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler were signed to long-term extensions in the spring, and Falvey and Levine focused on acquiring only short-term assets last winter, several of whom (most notably Nelson Cruz) ended up being big contributors to Minnesota’s division title. This leaves the Twins in position to spend more significantly this offseason, and Falvey said yesterday that “impact pitching” will be targeted to help a rotation that could be thinned out in free agency.
It isn’t surprising that the Twins would look to keep Falvey in the fold given his already-strong track record with the team, though Olney notes that the timing could also be related to the Red Sox, who currently the only team looking to fill a general manager vacancy. Falvey is from Massachusetts, though as of last month, was reportedly “very happy” in Minnesota and seemingly not looking to take on another position elsewhere.
If a new contract for Falvey could be coming soon, it stands to reason that Levine might also be in line for an extension in short order. Levine has been on the radar for other teams looking to make front office hires, though he turned down a request from the Mets to interview for their open GM position last year.
Twins first baseman C.J. Cron played through a thumb injury for much of the season’s second half, twice landing on the injured list, and he’ll now seek an outside opinion on the matter, chief baseball officer Derek Falvey revealed to reporters (link via Betsy Helfand of the St. Paul Pioneer Press). “There could be a potential for a procedure to help alleviate some of the stuff he’s been dealing with,” Falvey said.
Cron, 30 in January, posted a solid .266/.326/.495 slash with 17 homers through 77 games prior to the All-Star break. That production cratered as his thumb troubles cropped up, however; he hit just .229/.280/.420 in the second half as his walk rate nearly halved (from 6.9 percent to 3.6 percent) and his strikeout rate spiked (from 19.3 percent to 25.6 percent). In all, Cron’s first season with the Twins resulted in a .253/.311/.469 slash with 25 home runs. That was only a hair better than league-average production by measure of both wRC+ (101) and OPS+ (103) in 2019’s heightened offensive environment.
Cron’s health will be of particular interest given that he’s projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to receive a raise from this year’s $4.8MM salary up to $7.7MM in 2020. That’s a relatively steep price to pay a first baseman coming off league-average offensive output, although perhaps the Twins are confident that better health would’ve kept Cron productive and led to a second consecutive 30-homer season.
Still, the Rays cut Cron loose and ran him through outright waivers a year ago, when he had multiple seasons of club control remaining and was fresh off a .253/.323/.493 season (123 wRC+ and OPS+). Minnesota was 12th in waiver priority when Cron was claimed, meaning more than a third of the league was uninterested in picking up two years of control over him at a time when his projected arbitration salary was $5.2MM. If Cron was a borderline call for clubs at that point, that’s all the more true now with just one year of control remaining, another raise in the offing, a barking thumb and a year of diminished offense. Perhaps the two sides will cut some kind of deal at a lower price prior to the tender deadline, but Cron seems like a potential non-tender candidate this winter.
Oct. 10: Shelton’s interview will be an in-person sitdown next week, Sherman tweets.
Oct. 9: Twins bench coach Derek Shelton has emerged as a name to watch in the Mets’ search for a manager. The club has received permission to speak with Shelton, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, though he notes it’s unclear whether the two sides will meet for a face-to-face interview. New York is reportedly doing some due diligence on candidates and won’t bring everyone to town for an in-person interview.
Shelton’s the fourth potential candidate to come to the fore today for the Mets, who will discuss the job with former major league manager Joe Girardi, ex-outfielder Carlos Beltran and current Diamondbacks vice president of player development Mike Bell as they seek a replacement for Mickey Callaway. Like Beltran and Bell, Shelton has no managerial experience at the big league level. However, the former minor league catcher did manage in the Yankees’ farm system several years back, and he has established himself as a well-regarded MLB assistant in more recent seasons.
The 49-year-old Shelton held important roles with the Indians, Rays and Blue Jays before joining the Twins prior to 2018. He worked under Paul Molitor that year before serving as rookie manager Rocco Baldelli’s right-hand man during an AL Central-winning campaign this season. Shelton interviewed for the job before the Twins selected Baldelli, and it seems he’s lining up as a popular candidate for teams that are currently searching for a manager. Shelton has also been connected to the Pirates, with “possibly others” in the mix for his services, per Sherman.
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.
In one of the more predictable items of early offseason business, the Twins have decided to exercise their club option over designated hitter Nelson Cruz, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter). That decision will not need to be made formally until after the conclusion of the World Series, but it seems the Minnesota organization has already chosen a path.
When Cruz was asked recently about his contract situation, he responded in a manner that almost suggested he would be waiting with baited breath: “I don’t have that call,” he said, “but hopefully they can pick up the option.” But it didn’t take an act of benevolence, or even require much deliberation, for the Minnesota organization to settle upon a return.
This campaign came to a bitterly rapid end, but Cruz was right to note recently that the future seems bright for the Minnesota organization. That’s due primarily to the team’s array of youthful talent, strong farm system, and tidy baseball ops balance sheets. But it’s also based upon the ability to retain Cruz on the heels of a campaign in which he provided valuable leadership and immense offensive production. The veteran DH swatted 41 dingers and turned in a .311/.392/.639 slash during the regular season before producing yet more strong output in the team’s fruitless ALDS appearance.
Cruz was already an elusive free agent bargain, having returned 4.3 wins above replacement (by measure of both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference) at a cost of just $14MM. Now, the Twins get another bite at the apple for just $12MM. (The alternative was to send Cruz back onto the open market with a $300K buyout.) It might have been interesting to debate the open-market value of a 39-year-old DH after such a massive season, and then to see how the situation would play out. But we may safely presume that Cruz would have attracted ample interest at or above that price point, likely over multiple years.
Right-hander Jake Odorizzi may have made the final start of his Twins tenure on Monday. Odorizzi turned in a solid performance against the high-powered Yankees, allowing two runs on five hits (with five strikeouts and no walks) in five innings, but that wasn’t enough to stave off elimination for the Twins. Minnesota fell 5-1 to finish off a three-game ALDS sweep for the Yankees, bringing an early end to an impressive bounce-back season for the Twins.
Now that Minnesota’s offseason has begun, chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine must decide whether to aggressively pursue a new deal for Odorizzi. The soon-to-be 30-year-old’s on the brink of free agency, where he’ll be among the top non-Gerrit Cole starters available, though he does seem open to re-signing with the Twins.
Speaking in regards to his time with the Twins and his future Wednesday, Odorizzi told Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com and other reporters: “That’s out of my hands. I really enjoyed my two years here. If I’m back, great. I’ve really taken a liking to here. But if not, I wish nothing but the best. This is a great group of people from top to bottom. It’s tough to end the year, but at least I got to go out with great fans and a great atmosphere.”
Odorizzi, whom the Twins acquired from the Rays entering the 2018 season, is coming off a career year at an opportune moment. The first-time All-Star pitched to a 3.51 ERA/3.36 FIP with 10.08 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 across 159 innings, averaging a personal-best 92.9 mph on his fastball along the way.
Thanks to his strong production this season, Odorizzi will go into free agency as a qualifying offer candidate. Receiving a QO wouldn’t do Odorizzi any favors as he prepares to go to the market, as it would require a team to cough up a draft pick(s) while likely giving him a substantial payday over a couple years. However, it’s possible the Twins will simply let Odorizzi walk instead of risking having to pay an $18MM-plus salary for 2019 should he accept a QO. That said, waving goodbye to Odorizzi would be a tough development for the Twins, who are also at risk of seeing Kyle Gibson and Michael Pineda bolt via free agency. Additionally, they’ll have a decision to make on Martin Perez, who has a $7.5MM club option or a $500K buyout for next year.
Along with No. 1 starter Jose Berrios, each of Odorizzi, Gibson, Pineda and Martin were key components of a Minnesota rotation that saw all of them amass at least 26 starts during a 101-victory, AL Central-winning 2019. The lone member of the quintet who rivaled Berrios in effectiveness was Odorizzi, who may be in another uniform the next time he takes the ball.
Jake Odorizzi will take the ball for the Twins tomorrow evening at Target Field. With Minnesota facing elimination, it could be the impending free agent’s final start in their uniform. Odorizzi has started 62 games for the Twins since coming over from the Rays via trade prior to the 2018 season. Have those performances been enough to warrant a qualifying offer?
MLBTR’s Connor Byrne recently examined the qualifying offer market for pitchers (and position players, for that matter), noting that Odorizzi presented a borderline case. On the surface, his 2019 numbers would seem to make a QO a no-brainer. This season, Odorizzi worked to 3.51 ERA and 3.36 FIP, each of which ranked in the top 25 among pitchers with 150+ innings. Under the tutelage of first-year pitching coach Wes Johnson, Odorizzi’s stuff ticked up, as his 93 MPH average four-seam fastball, per Brooks Baseball, was a career-high. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he shattered his previous career-best strikeout rate (27.1%, up nearly five points from last season). Further, Odorizzi was essentially immune to the leaguewide home run spike this season, coughing up a career-low 0.91 HR/9. Put it together, and Odorizzi was worth around 4 wins above replacement, per both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference, easily worth the approximately $18MM he would lock in if he were to accept a qualifying offer.
Of course, though, teams look beyond a player’s previous-year stats in projecting future performance. Odorizzi doesn’t turn 30 until March and has started at least 28 games in each of his six full MLB seasons, so durability and age are on his side. Yet entering this season, his track record was more that of a back-end innings eater than the #2 starter he seemed to be in 2019. From 2016-2018, Odorizzi worked to a 4.09 ERA with a 4.60 FIP, with one of the league’s lowest ground ball rates causing home run problems. Even in 2019, Odorizzi remained a fly ball pitcher, part of the reason the Twins chose to hold him for Monday in Minnesota rather than having him work in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. It’s difficult to imagine him maintaining an 8.8% HR/FB rate moving forward, and his pre-2019 strikeout and walk numbers were hardly eye-catching. If a few more of Odorizzi’s fly balls begin clearing fences and/or his strikeouts regress to their previous levels, his elite run prevention numbers could bounce back up in a hurry.
It’s also notable that Odorizzi’s pure stuff, even with the aforementioned velocity uptick, isn’t world-beating. Per Statcast, Odorizzi has below-average fastball velocity (23rd percentile), fastball spin (40th percentile) and curveball spin (17th percentile). That’s sure to catch the attention of front offices, who increasingly have turned back to valuing raw stuff on the free agent market. Odorizzi can’t rival someone like Zack Wheeler when it comes to GIF-worthy pitching overlays, and just last offseason we saw Dallas Keuchel, whose multi-year track record dwarfed Odorizzi’s, languish on the free agent market after being tagged with a QO.
There’s also the Twins’ situation to consider. Minnesota only has $19.88MM committed to 2020 salaries, per Baseball Reference. They’re sure to exercise Nelson Cruz’s $12MM option and have a hefty slate of arbitration-eligible players, but they’ll nevertheless enter the offseason with ample financial flexibility. They’ll also have plenty of opportunity in the starting rotation. With Odorizzi, Michael Pineda and Kyle Gibson slated to hit free agency and Martín Pérez looking increasingly likely to be bought out, there’s almost nothing in the way of certainty behind José Berríos. Of course, merely having vacancies in the rotation shouldn’t mean the Twins feel compelled to QO Odorizzi if they feel that’d be a questionable investment.
So we’ll turn it over to you, MLBTR readers. How would you advise baseball ops heads Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to handle Odorizzi’s situation this winter?
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Although the Twins’ have enjoyed a rapid turnaround from 78 wins a season ago to 101 wins and a division title this year, that breakout has roots tracing back to 2009, writes Dan Hayes of The Athletic. A decade ago, the Twins landed a transformative class of international amateurs—Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, and Jorge Polanco—that blossomed into franchise cornerstones and 2019 stars. At the time, the $4.65MM the team doled out to land the three 16-year-olds was uncharacteristic for the Twins franchise, which had largely been a non-factor in the international scene; the team had no academy in the Dominican Republic and had virtually no connections with the players’ pseudo-agents. That made it especially difficult to land Sano, a coveted prospect who commanded a $3.15MM bonus and captured the attention of nearly every MLB club. On the other hand, there was less competition for Kepler, a German-born prospect, and Polanco, a scrawny teenager who lacked the projectability of Sano. Of course, those signings have delivered immense value to a team that has ridden Polanco, Kepler, and Sano to the franchise’s first division title since 2010. According to Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR, those three have been the 2019 Twins’ first-, third-, and seventh-most valuable players, combining to contribute 12.8 wins of value to the team.