Twins

Devising a 2016 Twins Offseason Blueprint

Every year the fine folks over at Twins Daily release their passion project, which is the Offseason Handbook. This year, they’ve done things a little bit differently, and are offering it for free with a free-will offering so to speak. You can access that here.

One of the fun things they do is an offseason blueprint. Basically speaking, it’s like the mock draft version of an offseason. It takes all the fun parts of being a general manager, and puts them right at your fingertips. What could be better?

And hey, we at Cold Omaha like fun too, so why not put out our own Minnesota Twins offseason blueprint?

Make Decisions on Players Eligible for Free Agency

This one is pretty easy, as we bid Kurt Suzuki a fond farewell after three years with the club. Through ups and downs, Suzuki remained a consummate professional, and should find work on the free-agent market assuming he wants to continue his career. Suzuki’s tenure with the Twins ends with him hitting .263/.316/.364 in 368 games, which is virtually identical to his career line of .256/.311/.372. Everyone else has already opted for free agency after being outrighted off the 40-man roster.

Determine Which Players to Tender/Non-Tender

Here’s where we rely on former Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs colleague Matt Swartz to help us, as he’s the residential financial guru over at MLB Trade Rumors these days.

The Twins have six arbitration-eligible players this season, and here’s what Swartz lists as their likely salaries for the 2017 season, should the club proceed that route with each:

  • 3B Trevor Plouffe – $8.2 million
  • SP Hector Santiago – $8.6 million
  • MR Brandon Kintzler – $2.2 million
  • IF Eduardo Escobar – $2.9 million
  • SP Kyle Gibson – $3.5 million
  • RP Ryan Pressly – $1.1 million

Frankly, I’m tendering all of them. Plouffe, Escobar and Santiago are classic bounce-back candidates. Plouffe is great insurance for Sano at third base and can play a bit all over the diamond while hitting lefties well. It should be pretty easy to find 300-400 plate appearances for a guy like that, while perhaps looking to move him near midseason if things go well. Escobar can play all over the diamond and has good pop for a guy his size, and beyond that is a good clubhouse guy who is well-liked among teammates and in the community. He’s also good shortstop insurance. Part of what goes into tendering Santiago is not only wanting Jose Berrios to force the team’s hand during the season, but also that the barren starting pitching market means one of two things: 1. nobody is signing a player of Santiago’s caliber for a one-year deal at this rate this winter and 1a. that means the Twins could in theory spend all winter dangling Santiago in trades with the idea that they’re also happy to have him at the back of their rotation. That’s fairly good leverage, even despite the fact that Santiago had a rough season.

Kintzler had a nice year, and while he probably shouldn’t be the closer moving forward, he could be really useful putting out fires in the sixth and seventh innings with his heavy groundball tendencies. And like anyone on a one-year deal, if he falters he can be cut at pretty much any time. Gibson had a rough year and isn’t exactly young — he turned 29 in late October — but Derek Falvey has been with the team that has shown the ability to get a lot out of groundball guys like Justin Masterson and Corey Kluber. One more year won’t hurt here, especially since the market is so lean. Pressly had a nice year, so this is an easy decision. He might be my closer to start the year, frankly.

Sign Free Agents

The market is soul-crushingly thin for teams looking to make additions at any price, let alone a reasonable one this offseason. It’s extremely thin up the middle except for center field — where Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler and even Yoenis Cespedes are all going to get paid — and the starting pitching market is laughably bad, as teams will be choosing between going big on the latest Pittsburgh Pirates reclamation project in Ivan Nova, or a late-30s model Rich Hill which is always a blister away from missing a few starts, and is just a year or so removed from working in the Indy Leagues.

That’s a tough spot for the only team in baseball which lost 100 games last year, but let’s dig in anyway. Here’s who we like:

  • C Jason Castro – two years, $16 million with third-year team option at $10 million
  • OF Carlos Gomez – one year, $11 million with playing-time incentives
  • RP Aaron Barrett – minor-league deal with invite to spring training

That’s it? That’s it.

It’s hard for the casual fan to look at Castro, a guy who has hit like Suzuki the last three years, and get real excited about him, but let’s take a look at this for a second. First of all, he has hit in the semi-recent past; he hit .276/.350/.485 in 2013 and even made the AL All-Star team. But more importantly, StatCorner lists him as their No. 4 pitch framer in all of baseball last season. Whether or not Castro hits is inconsequential, but getting a defensive catcher like this can go a long way in revamping a pitching staff from the jump. Suzuki and Juan Centeno were among the worst at milking extra strikes out of pitches in 2016, while Castro was one of the best. So too, incidentally, was John Ryan Murphy down at Triple-A, according to statistics published at Baseball Prospectus. Now try imagine a pitching staff that would benefit more from stealing additional strikes than a team that just broke a long stretch of having the worst K/9 rate in all of baseball?

Signing Castro makes almost too much sense.

Gomez is coming off a couple bizarre seasons, but makes sense for the Twins for a couple reasons. First of all, he’ll come at a price far lower than he would have at any point in his career. He’s bound to be hungry for the chance to get a big contract — he’ll be just 31 all next season, after all — and what better fit for the Twins, who can trade him in July or slap him with a Qualifying Offer if he has said rebound season? Catching Gomez on the rebound makes a ton of sense for the Twins, who could form an incredible outfield with him, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler out there with Eddie Rosario more than capable of backing up all three spots. Besides, short of adding plate discipline, Rosario doesn’t project as a starting outfielder on a division-winning club — something you’d like to be building toward. And again, if Gomez falters, designate him for assignment and do the “next man up” thing. Getting Gomez out of Houston worked wonders for his swing, maybe the same could be true of Castro?

Finally, the Nationals took Barrett off their 40-man roster after he spent the whole season working his way back from Tommy John surgery. When Barrett was healthy, he was nasty, as he pumped mid-90s heat with a solid slider. Not only did he induce a fair number of grounders (44.9 percent career groundball rate), but he also carries a career whiff rate on his slider of 24.3 percent. In addition to taking a shot with a handful of the usual relief suspects in minor-league free agency, this should be a priority addition. Even signing him to a big-league deal would be fine, as he can be put on the 60-day disabled list if he still needs time to recover.

Examine the Trade Market

Ultimately, I don’t see much happening here. Brian Dozier and Ervin Santana probably hold more value to the Twins right now than they’d garner in a trade. If the Atlanta Braves or New York Mets call up and offer Julio Teheran or Steven Matz, that deal probably gets done in a heartbeat for Dozier. Ultimately though, it’s most likely worth keeping Dozier to see if he can parlay his awesome 2016 into a great encore in 2017. Santana had one of the best seasons of his career, and frankly if the Twins want to be even decent in 2017, it probably means he’s staying in-house. Still, if someone offers a couple top-100 prospects and an interesting big leaguer, you’d have to listen. That’s still probably not happening. It might be a quiet winter on the trade front, at least from a consummating deals standpoint.

Here’s what we’re left with for a 25-man roster:

Starting Lineup

  • C- Jason Castro ($7.5m)
  • 1B- Joe Mauer ($23m)
  • 2B- Brian Dozier ($6m)
  • 3B- Trevor Plouffe ($8.2 m)
  • SS- Jorge Polanco ($507.5k)
  • LF- Max Kepler ($507.5k)
  • CF- Byron Buxton ($507.5k)
  • RF- Carlos Gomez ($11 million)
  • DH- Miguel Sano ($507.5k)

Total committed to lineup: $57.73m

Breakdown: The situation is #fluid here with the lineup, as I put Sano at DH just as a matter of procedure. Ideally, Sano would play at least 100 games at third base so the team can get a feel for if he can handle it there. Ultimately, there might be a ton of movement between Sano, Plouffe, Mauer, Vargas and even Byungho Park between first, third and DH to the point where the manager and mix and match based on matchups and guys needing rest. The same goes at shortstop with Polanco and Escobar. Ultimately, this is a pretty solid lineup that should score runs, have pretty good speed and be able to at least do its part on the road back to .500. Again, Castro should help the pitching staff immensely, even if he doesn’t hit much.

Bench

  • C- John Ryan Murphy ($507.5k)
  • IF- Eduardo Escobar ($2.9m)
  • IF- Kennys Vargas ($507.5k)
  • OF- Eddie Rosario ($507.5k)

Total committed to bench: $4.4225m

Breakdown: I toyed with the idea of also having Danny Santana in here, but ultimately opted not to. Including him at the expense of Plouffe on the roster makes financial sense, as might a DH platoon of Park and Vargas with Sano at third base, but ultimately I went the other way. The bench offers a bit of everything, including a good defensive catcher, someone who can play all over, a good defensive outfielder who can handle center and a masher. I’m also open to shortening the bullpen and adding another guy here — who again might be Santana just for depth and jack-of-(some)-trades purposes — but this is my blueprint. Don’t like it? Do your own, ha. A bench should be either good or cheap. This one is…..both?

Rotation

  1. Ervin Santana ($13.5m)
  2. Phil Hughes ($13.2m)
  3. Kyle Gibson ($3.5m)
  4. Trevor May ($507.5k)
  5. Hector Santiago ($8.6m)

Total committed to rotation: $39.3075m

Breakdown: Yeah, it’s kind of a lot of money promised to a rotation that still is among the worst in the AL. But that’s the bed that’s been made, and must be laid in at least for now. There’s still plenty of room here for Jose Berrios to force his way into the rotation — especially given the uncertainty regarding Hughes’ recovery — and there’s also ample room for someone like Stephen Gonsalves to force his way into the picture in the near future. It’s not a great rotation, but it could be OK. Again, consider the Castro factor here. He would help guys like Hughes and Gibson a ton.

Bullpen

  1. Michael Tonkin ($507.5k)
  2. Tyler Duffey ($507.5k)
  3. Buddy Boshers ($507.5k)
  4. J.T. Chargois ($507.5k)
  5. Taylor Rogers ($507.5k)
  6. Brandon Kintzler ($2.2m)
  7. Ryan Pressly ($1.1m)

Total committed to bullpen: $5.8375m

Breakdown: Yeah, so this is an entire bullpen — and not too bad of one — for less than the Houston Astros will pay Tony Sipp ($6m) this coming season. That’s right, the same Sipp who had a 4.95 ERA (6.19 FIP) this past season and whom some Twins fans were clamoring for the club to sign. The bullpen for the Twins in 2017 needs to be about development from within. There’s no need to really deem anyone a long-term closer — though I think Pressly or Chargois should get looks here — or to worry about adding too much from the outside. This team will get wherever it’s headed with these guys in place, whether it’s an 80-, 90- or heaven forbid another 100-loss season. Finding, crafting and developing the next great Twins bullpen is the goal here, and doing it from within is the right way to do it. There’s no shame in a cheap bullpen, and the Twins should, and most likely will embrace that here.

Other money to account for:

  • 1B Byungho Park ($2.75m)
  • RP Glen Perkins ($6.5m)

Total committed to non-roster players: $9.25m

Breakdown: With Park, it just makes sense to send him to Rochester to get the season underway. He’s fairly interchangeable with Vargas on the roster, and frankly one or the other could be flipped to Kansas City as well, as the Royals are likely to be in the market for a cheap DH if Kendrys Morales departs. Nevertheless, after a rough 2016, getting a few at-bats down at Triple-A won’t hurt Mr. Park. As for Perkins, there’s virtually no chance he’ll be ready to contribute early in the 2017 season, and maybe not ever again. If he gets healthy and shows he’s ready, there’s clearly room for him in the bullpen. If not, he’ll likely open the season on the 60-day disabled list, and see his $6.5 million option for 2018 declined after the season.

Overall payroll: $112.125 million, slightly up from the roughly $106 million mark from last year via Cot’s Contracts and Spotrac.

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