The Twins have “kicked the tires” on several free-agent third basemen, including Josh Donaldson and Todd Frazier, according to Darren Wolfson of Skor North. Speculatively, it would seem that Mike Moustakas could also belong to this group, though he wasn’t explicitly named as a target.
One member of the Twins who might not be pleased to hear this news? C.J. Cron. With Miguel Sano currently installed at the hot corner, there’s not an immediate fit there, so adding a pricey third baseman through free agency could force Sano to first base—at Cron’s expense. The 29-year-old is in his final year of arbitration eligibility, and with MLBTR projecting a $7.7MM salary for the 2020 season, he’s a candidate to be non-tendered at the December 2 deadline.
That’s not to say that Cron is not a valuable player. With a .780 OPS and 25 home runs in 125 games for the Twins, he was a nice addition last winter and $8MM is by no means unaffordable, but the front office will certainly consider whether there are other options that could match or exceed Cron’s production at a lower price. It’s the same discussion that surrounded the Rays’ decision to designate Cron for assignment after a 2018 season in which he slugged 30 home runs, rather than pay the approximate $5MM he would’ve earned in arbitration.
And with Sano expected to earn $5.9MM in his second year of arbitration eligibility and coming off a decidedly better offensive season, he may very well represent a more cost-effective replacement for Cron. After rising through the minor league ranks as a third baseman, many have projected a transition to first base in Sano’s future. And after parts of five seasons in the big leagues, it seems safe to say that Sano will never be an above-average defensive third baseman: he was credited with -5 Defensive Runs Saved in 2019, and the stat believes he has cost his team runs in every season since 2015.
The Twins have quietly amassed the financial flexibility to go after the winter’s big fish, so a player of Donaldson’s caliber shouldn’t be out of the question for Minnesota. That said, they likely won’t be players for the best option on the market, Anthony Rendon. Nonetheless, if Cron is indeed non-tendered, the club would find itself comfortably below 2019’s $120MM Opening Day payroll, so the Twins shouldn’t be financially precluded from bringing in Donaldson on the three-year, $75MM deal that MLBTR projected for him. Still, there’s an argument to be made that those resources ought to be allocated to the starting rotation, which is a glaring area of weakness after the loss of Kyle Gibson and Michael Pineda to free agency.
As Wolfson mentions, the team has also considered giving catcher Mitch Garver increased reps at first base. After an offensive breakout in which he hit 31 home runs in just 311 at-bats, one would think his bat could play there. Wolfson is quick to note, however, that that doesn’t constitute a full-time position change for Garver—of course, such a move would only diminish his comparative offensive value, given the dearth of slugging catchers. The Twins still think of him first and foremost as a catcher (indeed, Garver made strides as a defensive catcher this year after a rocky start to his career), though decreasing his workload behind the plate would allow the team to get his bat in the lineup for more games throughout the season. He was part of a formidable timeshare with Jason Castro in 2019, and the Twins seem reluctant to pencil in a single catcher for 130+ games in 2020, so a similar arrangement (whether with Castro, who’s a free agent, or a newcomer) could be in order this year.