- Before signing perennial Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons, the Twins consulted with Jorge Polanco and Luis Arraez about the move, tweets the Athletic’s Aaron Gleeman. Since both Polanco and Arraez stand to be displaced from their expected roles, the Twins were wise to secure their buy-in. Still, it’s a courtesy they didn’t have to observe. Polanco has been the team’s regular shortstop for most of the past four seasons. As for Arraez, projection systems from THE BAT X to Steamer to ZiPS forecast Arraez to lead the Majors in batting average, as pointed out on the Athletic’s Rates and Barrels podcast. While it’s not the 1990’s anymore, it’s still surprising to push a potential batting champ out of a regular role. That said, we tend to overrate the starting lineup on opening day, and underrate the impact and opportunity that exists for players in “bench” roles.
Jan 31: The Twins have officially announced the signing. The Twins now have two open spots on their 40-man roster.
Jan 26: The Twins have reached an agreement with free agent shortstop Andrelton Simmons on a one-year, $10.5MM contract, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan (via Twitter). Per the Athletic’s Aaron Gleeman (via Twitter), the deal is done, pending a physical. The ISE Baseball client is the third shortstop and fourth infielder to come off the board in the past few hours.
The Twins step in from somewhat out-of-the-blue to sign Simmons – but not entirely. Twins GM Thad Levine flagged the potential for a move like this recently in saying that the defensive versatility of their current roster gave them options in free agency. Jorge Polanco will slide over to second base, while Luis Arraez will move around the diamond as needed, notes Passan.
Levine recently spoke of being impressed by the Dodgers’ malleability in the World Series, noting that his own roster could flex similarly, especially with manager Rocco Baldelli as a capable tactician at the wheel. If nothing else, with Simmons at short, Josh Donaldson at third, and Byron Buxton in center, the Twins boast a defense with upside enough to make a difference. Moving Polanco off short and installing Simmons in his place – on its own – has the makings of an impactful upgrade.
The four-time Gold Glove Award winner has long been considered the tastemaker with the glove at short, though ankle injuries have limited his contributions the past two seasons. His glovework was worth -1 outs above average over a 30-game sample in 2020 before he opted out, but in just 103 games the year prior, he was second among all shortstops with 12 OAA. It’s not at all a reach to suggest that Simmons is a generational talent on the defensive end.
There are more questions on the offensive side of the game. For his career, Simmons owns a slash line of .269/.317/.379 with a career 90 wRC+. The 31-year-old won’t be asked to carry the weight of the offense on a Twins’ club that has been known for its power output in recent years. Of course, two major contributors to the Bomba Squad – Eddie Rosario and Nelson Cruz – are currently free agents.*
Last season, Simmons slashed .297/.346/.356 across 127 plate appearances with a 12.6 percent strikeout rate and 6.3 percent walk rate. Simmons is one of the toughest players in the game to strikeout, though that’s in part because he’s a free swinger who doesn’t take many walks. His batter ball numbers weren’t good in 2020 – for example, zero barrels – but in such a small sample it’s tough to glean much substance.
The question Twins fans will ask is whether this signing precludes Minnesota from a reunion with designated hitter Nelson Cruz. Signing Simmons at this price point for one year could certainly be seen as a way to save money. In terms of maximizing flexibility, replacing Cruz with Simmons certainly accomplishes the task. That said, there’s an argument to be made that adding Simmons to the defense make Cruz an even better fit on the offensive end. Last we heard, however, there hasn’t been much movement on talks between the Twins and Cruz – though with this box checked, talks could just as well open up again. That figures to change, or way or another, with Simmons now in the fold. The Twins might not be done, however. Per the Athletic’s Dan Hayes (via Twitter), someone with the clubs says they have “two more moves ahead before the offseason is out.”
In terms of his value relative to the market, Minnesota nets Simmons for slightly less than we projected for him at the outset of free agency – MLBTR forecast $12MM. He lands pretty firmly between the one-year deals signed by his peers today. Marcus Semien signed for $18MM, while Freddy Galvis signed for $1.5MM. All three will now re-enter free agency next season when Trevor Story, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, and Javier Baez are also set to hit the open market.
*Rosario has since signed with the Indians.
Nelson Cruz and the Twins have recently restarted talks on a new contract for the slugger, The Athletic’s Dan Hayes reports. Cruz had been looking for a two-year contract, but “the possibility of a one-year accord [is] now on the table” in his current discussions with Minnesota, Hayes writes.
Despite mutual interest in a continued relationship, there hasn’t been much action between Cruz and the Twins this offseason since both sides were fairly entrenched in their positions. The team didn’t want to pay too much money and give more than one guaranteed year to a player who turns 41 in July, especially when a DH-only player like Cruz is (at the moment) limited to only American League teams. From Cruz’s perspective, he was hopeful that his market could expand to NL teams if the universal DH was implemented, and as a result was looking for a two-year contract commensurate with his continued outstanding production.
Since there isn’t yet any movement towards the NL getting the designated hitter in 2021, that could explain why Cruz’s representatives have re-engaged with the Twins, and why there have be some flexibility from Cruz’s original two-year ask. As Hayes notes, however, the two sides still have to “common ground on a salary,” which may not be simple since the Twins would ideally like to both re-sign Cruz and still have money left over to obtain more pitching. Minnesota has weighed such alternate strategies as focusing all of its available payroll space on pitching and either letting its internal options handle the DH spot, or perhaps signing a cheaper alternative to Cruz — Hayes notes that Edwin Encarnacion has been considered as a possibility.
Or, in separate direction entirely, the Twins have also “floated” the idea of another free agent signing in Marcell Ozuna. Such a move would pivot the club away from a pitching search, since Ozuna would be both pricier than Cruz and require at least a three-year contract. Ozuna is over a decade younger than Cruz, of course, and while Ozuna might become a DH-only type in the future, Minnesota could deploy him as a part-time outfielder for at least a season or two. It’s probably safe to assume that Ozuna is something of a Plan C for the Twins, just in case an agreement couldn’t be reached with either Cruz or any notable pitching targets.
The Phillies narrowed their focus on Andrelton Simmons before he signed with the Twins this afternoon, writes Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Didi Gregorius remains in play to return, but he may not be so keen on another one-year deal. Regardless, the Phillies prefer not to move Jean Segura back to short, notes Lauber. Even with Gregorius more-or-less the only remaining starting shortstop on the market, Segura’s presence, as well as Scott Kingery, means they don’t have to panic on an overpay. Should they ultimately strike out on Gregorius, Jonathan Villar and Hanser Alberto lurk as free agents, or the Phils could turn to the trade market to make a play for either Trevor Story of the Rockies or Javier Baez of the Cubs. Neither club has seemed particularly likely to move their star shortstop, but Phillies’ president of baseball ops Dave Dombrowski might be the guy to convince them. Let’s check in on some other infield news…
- With middle infielders flying off the shelves, Kolten Wong is seeing an uptick in interest, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi (via Twitter). The ace defensive second baseman has seen at least preliminary interest from the Tigers, Mariners, Rays, Cubs, Phillies, and Cardinals, with whom he’s spent his entire career. Wong’s power disappeared in 2020, slashing .265/.350/.326, but he won a second consecutive Gold Glove Award and continued to be an on-base presence for the Cardinals. Wong has quietly posted 3.3 bWAR per 600 plate appearances throughout his career, and as he enters his age-30 season, he could prove one of the more impactful free agents remaining on the market.
- The Tigers plan on experimenting with Isaac Paredes at second base, writes Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press. Paredes is penciled in as the Tigers’ everyday third baseman, but manager A.J. Hinch said basically that there is no harm in expanding the 21-year-old’s skill set. He’s been on fire playing winter ball, and with Jeimer Candelario having a big season in 2020 (and Spencer Torkelson on his way to claim one of the infield corners,) it’s certainly worth testing the limits of Paredes’ defensive abilities.
Twins general manager Thad Levine provided some general updates on his team’s winter plans during a podcast interview with SKOR North’s Darren Wolfson (audio link). With J.A. Happ signed to the rotation earlier this week, more additions could still be in the offing, since Levine feels “we’re starting to see things really de-congest” in the free agent market.
“We’re not done. We still have some flexibility, we’re still having ongoing conversations, we still see many ways we can improve this team both from a qualitative standpoint and from a depth standpoint,” Levine said.
As you might expect, Levine declined to get into detail about many names, but did note that the Twins are “staying in touch” with reliever Tyler Clippard and “are in constant conversation” with Nelson Cruz’s representatives. Interestingly, Wolfson opened the pre-interview portion of the podcast by noting that talks have been “pretty dead” between Cruz and the Twins, and it has been some time since the club presented Cruz with an offer. As Wolfson puts it, however, “all it takes is one new call” to reignite talks, as both sides are pretty familiar with each other’s positions. As has been the case all offseason, Cruz’s situation might not be resolved until there is firmer clarity on whether or not the National League will use the DH in 2021.
In terms of specific needs, the Twins are always interested in more arms (“If in doubt, add more pitching,” Levine said), particularly as pitchers re-adjust to throwing more innings in the wake of the abbreviated 2020 season. Beyond pitchers, Levine is open to all possibilities on the position-player front, due to Minnesota’s versatile roster.
“When we look at the free agent market, we do not feel limited in terms of bats that we can go recruit….We do have such amazing flexibility within our team [that] you could almost recruit a player at about any position on the field and still make it work,” the GM said.
The Twins are also exploring options on the trade market, and Levine said that technically, there aren’t any so-called untouchable players on the roster — as a general principle, the organization has to be open to anything should an opportunity arise, but obviously the Twins are “less inclined” to shop or discuss certain top-tier players and prospects. Levine also added that the Twins had received trade interest in “over 30 distinct players” within the organization over the last year, which the general manager considered a positive endorsement of Minnesota’s talent depth at both the Major League and minor league levels.
Two new teams can be added to the list of potential Marcus Semien suitors, as SKOR North’s Darren Wolfson reports (Twitter link) that the Twins and Brewers have each spoken with representatives for the free agent shortstop. While Semien might not necessarily join one of those two clubs, Wolfson writes that there is some sense that Semien is “moving closer to a decision.”
Minnesota has been speculatively linked to Semien for months, considering that the Twins have been known to be monitoring the middle infield market as part of their rather broad range of free agent considerations. MLBTR’s Steve Adams wrote back in September that acquiring a new everyday shortstop or second baseman would allow Minnesota to shift either Jorge Polanco or Luis Arraez into super-utility duty, thus effectively filling Marwin Gonzalez’s old role as a Swiss Army knife off the bench.
Or, it isn’t out of the question that Semien could find himself playing elsewhere than shortstop, if the Twins were one of the teams considering him at other infield positions. It’s probably safe to assume that Semien would get the bulk of the action at shortstop in Minnesota, but if he was open to playing some second base (or even third base, to occasionally spell Josh Donaldson), it would further increase manager Rocco Baldelli’s flexibility in regards to lineup construction and in-game maneuvering.
J.A. Happ and Hansel Robles have been added on the pitching side, but the Twins have yet to make a significant position player move this winter. There isn’t yet any news on the Nelson Cruz front, and Minnesota already said goodbye to a notable power bat when Eddie Rosario was non-tendered (though the team hopes that top prospect Alex Kirilloff can immediately step in to fill Rosario’s shoes). Before salaries were reduced last season, the Twins had a non-prorated $132MM payroll projected for 2020 and currently have a little over $100MM committed for the 2021 roster, so there is theoretically room to add at least one more big salary while still not approaching their 2020 spending.
Signing Semien would perhaps be an even more interesting move from the Brewers’ perspective, and it would mark the first big-ticket addition of the offseason within an NL Central that has collectively seemed more focused on cutting payroll than planning to contend. It could be that the division’s general inactivity has given Milwaukee some inspiration in making a move that could separate the team in the playoff race, even if it means stretching the budget to some extent. Granted, there was considerable debate over what Semien’s next contract would look like even in the early days of the offseason, and as we approach February, it’s possible Semien’s asking price has dipped into the Brewers’ range. Milwaukee had a pre-proration payroll of just under $97.5MM in 2020 and are just shy of $85MM in projected payroll for 2021 thanks to some notable contracts (including Ryan Braun) coming off the books.
Semien would immediately solidify a rather uncertain left side of the Milwaukee infield, as Orlando Arcia and Luis Urias are respectively slated as the starting shortstop and third baseman. Daniel Robertson and Jace Peterson have also been added this winter as backup infield options. Similar to the aforementioned scenario with Semien and the Twins, Semien would likely mostly play shortstop in Milwaukee but perhaps also get some work at other infield spots to stay in the lineup every day while the Brew Crew juggles their other players in and out of the lineup.
- In his latest podcast, SKOR North’s Darren Wolfson (audio link) reports that the Twins made an offer to free agent John Brebbia before the right-hander signed with the Giants in December. Brebbia underwent Tommy John surgery last June, so it remains to be seen if he’ll pitch at all during the 2021 season, but he is controllable through the 2023 season. Brebbia posted some strong numbers (3.14 ERA, 27.4K%, 19.9K-BB%) over 175 innings out of the Cardinals’ bullpen from 2017-19.
- The Twins may be one of the mystery teams taking a look at Simmons. When asked by Darren Wolfson of SKOR North (video link) if Jorge Polanco would be their opening day shortstop, Twins GM Thad Levin said, “I think we look at our team and say Byron Buxton’s our opening day centerfielder, and Josh Donaldson’s our opening day third baseman – almost everyone else on our team has defensive flexibility. We view that as a huge boon to our team.” Wolfson notes that the Twins know the asking prices for free agent shortstops Simmons and Marcus Semien are keeping an eye on it.
- To be clear, Levine in no way implied that Polanco would not be a big part of their team in 2021, only that they consider the defensive malleability of the current roster as one of their advantages – both in the market and on the ball field. By DRS, OAA, and UZR, Polanco has measured as a subpar defender at shortstop throughout his career, and the Twins may see value in moving him to second in order to upgrade the infield defense on the whole. More broadly, the Twins appear keen on making the “best” free agent deal they can find, regardless of position. If flexibility really is central to the Twins’ philosophy, that could help explain any reticence they might have about locking Nelson Cruz into the designated hitter spot . That said, it’s hard to imagine finding any player better at their position than Cruz was as their DH the last two seasons (163 wRC+).
- Ehire Adrianza signaled an end to his time in Minnesota with a post on instagram thanking the fans in Minnesota for his four years there. As of now, however, it’s not readily apparent if Adrianza has a new team lined up for 2021, per Chris Miller of the Star Tribune. The versatile switch-hitter has played everywhere on the diamond except for centerfield over his eight-year career. He spent four seasons with the Giants and the last four with the Twins, compiling a career triple slash line of .244/.310/.360, good for an 82 wRC+. The 31-year-old doesn’t offer a lot of pop, but he generally puts the ball in play and walked at a 10.9 percent clip in 2020. He may be a value option for a team that had interest in but missed out on either Jurickson Profar or Enrique Hernández.
JAN. 22, 9:24pm: The Twins are not in the race after all, Rosenthal reports.
8:39pm: The Mets’ interest in Bauer “has become more focused” since the Blue Jays agreed to sign Springer, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. The Jays are “believed” to still be in the running, however, and the same goes for the Dodgers and Twins. There’s no word on whether the Angels remain a possibility.
JAN. 21: It’s “believed” that the Mets and Angels have the best chance to land Bauer, per Feinsand. Meanwhile, despite the interest the Dodgers have shown in Bauer, it “still feels like a long shot to most industry sources” that he will end up with them, Feinsand writes.
JAN. 20: It appears the Dodgers have entered the market for top free agent hurler Trevor Bauer. ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan connected the two sides (Twitter link), with Jon Heyman of MLB Network (Twitter link) adding further detail to the situation.
At the moment, all that’s known is that the L.A. ballclub has initiated contact with Bauer’s camp and that the team’s interest is in a shorter-term pact. Both of those nuggets of information fail to surprise.
It has long felt inevitable that we’d see a connection between the SoCal native and the reigning world champs. Indeed, that’s just the outcome MLBTR prognosticated would ultimately come to fruition. Among other things, Bauer has expressed an inclination to pursue shorter-term, higher-AAV contract scenarios of the sort that the Dodgers have dangled to other premium players.
That’s not to say Bauer is sure to wear Dodger blue. The other team in Los Angeles remains a factor, among quite a few others. With some truly astronomical sums potentially in play, anything could still happen.
Bauer’s willingness to entertain creative offers also helps keep the door open to a variety of organizations. It may well be possible to make a competitive pitch without committing to an uncomfortably long guarantee.
For instance, the Blue Jays have already taken on a lengthy deal this winter by signing George Springer, perhaps reducing their appetite for another. But the Toronto organization may yet attempt to lure Bauer, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand notes on Twitter. Whether or not that potential effort would be based around a shorter term isn’t clear, but it’s certainly one potential avenue.
The Springer contract has surely buoyed Bauer’s own hopes for a monster deal — whether he chooses to maximize total guarantee or his annual salary. Amid so much uncertainty, a hefty $150MM pact makes clear that teams still have serious money to commit to payroll when they so choose.