The Twins snapped the longest postseason losing streak in North American sports this year when they swept the Blue Jays out of the Wild Card round before falling 3-1 in an ALDS loss to the Astros. They’ll head into the offseason facing the potential loss of Cy Young finalist Sonny Gray, but there are also other areas of need on the roster. President of baseball operations Derek Falvey indicated to Bobby Nightengale of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that his club could also be in the market for an addition to their first base mix.
“With [Alex Kirilloff] and with potential external additions, it’ll probably be an area we do spend some time this offseason from free agent or trade perspective,” Falvey said of his team’s first base outlook.
Kirilloff, a longtime top prospect whose career trajectory has been altered by persistent wrist and shoulder injuries, served as the Twins’ primary first baseman when healthy in 2023. Free agents Donovan Solano and Joey Gallo also logged significant time at first base. There’s yet to be any indication the Twins plan to re-sign either. Gallo, in particular, seems likely to depart.
The 26-year-old Kirilloff turned in a very sound .270/.348/.445 batting line with 11 home runs in 319 plate appearances, but he also had multiple shoulder-related IL stints before ultimately undergoing surgery at season’s end. That procedure, Nightengale writes, was actually less invasive than the Twins originally anticipated, and he’s expected to be ready for spring training.
That said, it’s hard to bank on Kirilloff assuming the position on a full-time basis next year. The Twins thought highly enough of the former first-round pick to give him his MLB debut during the 2020 postseason, and he’s now spent parts of three seasons on the MLB roster. However, this past campaign’s 88 games and 319 plate appearances are both career-highs. Kirilloff’s 2021 and 2022 seasons ended with wrist surgery.
There’s little doubting Kirilloff’s raw abilities. He was the 15th overall draft pick in 2016 and hit a combined .324/.381/.525 in the minors — including a gaudy .366/.458/.673 in 53 Triple-A games. Prior to his MLB debut, he peaked as the game’s No. 15 overall prospect at Baseball America and climbed as high as ninth on MLB.com’s top 100 rankings. Even with the past wrist issues and ongoing shoulder troubles in ’23, he was a well above-average hitter. But his ability to remain on the field and the extent to which he can recover from a third notable surgery in three years are both open questions.
The Twins have alternatives at the position. Rookie infielder Edouard Julien, a top-100 prospect in his own right, hit the big league scene with a .263/.381/.459 batting line and 16 home runs as a rookie in 408 plate appearances this season. He’s primarily been a second baseman, but there are questions about his ability to handle that spot long term and Julien already logged some time at first base. With Jorge Polanco entrenched at second base, slotting Julien in at first base and designated hitter could get his bat into the lineup more regularly. Of course, the Twins’ wealth of young infield talent makes Polanco an obvious trade candidate, and if he’s moved, that’d clear a spot for Julien at second base and Kirilloff and/or an external acquisition at first base.
Also in the mix is Jose Miranda — yet another former top prospect who broke through with a terrific rookie showing in 2022 before regressing in 2023 and eventually requiring a shoulder surgery of his own. Miranda batted .268/.325/.426 with 15 home runs in 125 games as a rookie in ’22 but limped to a .211/.263/.303 line in 40 big league games this past season. His work in Triple-A wasn’t any better, and he wound up being diagnosed with a shoulder impingement that resulted in September surgery. Still just 25 years of age, a healthy Miranda could work his way back into the mix as well.
Suffice it to say, the Twins aren’t short on in-house options. The looming possibility of a Polanco trade (thus opening second base for Julien), uncertainty surrounding the health/durability of Kirilloff and Miranda, and the hopeful opening of some at-bats at the designated hitter position could all pave the way for Minnesota to bring in a bat, though. Byron Buxton spent the bulk of the 2023 season as a designated hitter due to lingering complications from last winter’s knee surgery, but the Twins are optimistic that he’ll be able to return to center field in 2024, per Falvey. That’d be a boon both offensively and defensively, if he’s able to do so.
The offseason market at first base isn’t exactly deep in terms of star power, though Rhys Hoskins stands as a prominent name on the open market (assuming his own recovery from a torn ACL progresses as expected). Brandon Belt is also available, though he’s a strict platoon option and bats from the same side of the plate as the left-handed Kirilloff. Buy-low options include Garrett Cooper and old friend C.J. Cron. Pete Alonso’s name has been kicked around the trade market, but Mets president of baseball operations David Stearns said this week that he does not anticipate trading the star slugger (link via Will Sammon of The Athletic).
The Twins are expected to reduce payroll this coming season, albeit not drastically so. Revenue losses stemming from the collapse of their television deal under Diamond Sports Group’s bankruptcy create uncertainty in Minnesota, where Roster Resource currently projects them for a $125MM payroll. Dan Hayes of The Athletic reported earlier this week that the team’s payroll would likely settle between $125-140MM. Trading Polanco ($10.5MM), Max Kepler ($10MM) and/or Christian Vazquez ($10MM) would create some breathing room, as could a trade or non-tender of utility infielder Kyle Farmer (projected $6.6MM arbitration salary, per MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz).