The refrain that has come repeatedly from new Twins GM Thad Levine is that this current bunch doesn’t have a talent level reflective of a 59-win team. Even the Sabermetric community agrees; the current Fangraphs projection for the 2017 Twins has them at 75 wins.
With that said, Levine and company have mentioned finding veterans to help this group of young players get off the ground and become a stable core for the next run of solid Twins club. Reflective of Levine’s first point is that there aren’t too many spots on the roster that can use a boost. Sure, it’s possible to find a better offensive center fielder than Byron Buxton or a better shortstop than last year’s version of Eduardo Escobar, but the basic point is this:
The Twins have an answer or possible answer close in almost every position.
That’s not a terrible position to be in. But playing in the big leagues is hard. That was never more evident than last year’s team, which was largely the same group that won 83 games the year before. That 24-game hemorrhaging suffered by the 2016 group showed the need to have some veterans at the margins to help show these young guys the ropes.
The Twins have already started down that road by signing Jason Castro. For all the hubbub about Castro’s bat, he can hit righties and is a capable defender. His pitch-framing ability will help extract added value from the pitching staff — a bunch that could certainly use that sort of help.
Maybe that’s the only move the Twins will make, but there are certainly other opportunities to improve across the board. Let’s take a look at some of the other veterans the Twins could consider in their quest to return to relevance:
1B/DH Mike Napoli
Napoli is a righty masher whose power was never more evident than against the Twins this season. He hit seven of his 34 home runs against the Twins this season and hit .286/.412/.600 overall against them. Four of those home runs came at Target Field, for what it’s worth. In Napoli’s favor is that he’s 35, so on a short-term deal he’ll be of interest to a lot of teams — not the least of which being the Indians. But if the Twins decide they need a right-handed bat to DH with Miguel Sano playing third, a rejuvenated Napoli could be a good fit. He’s regarded as a great clubhouse guy too. He fits the bill as a guy who can still play but also be good in the clubhouse and community, and he’ll obviously have some familiarity with Derek Falvey. It’d be wise not to overextend to get him though; he’s a good but not great hitter and provides no defense with only the downside of his career remaining. One year plus a team option makes some sense, though he’ll probably be able to grab a two-year deal from someone, maybe in the $24-26 million range.
1B/DH Chris Carter
Carter is Napoli without the clubhouse reputation. That’s not to say he isn’t good in the clubhouse — there’s no evidence of that — there just isn’t of steam on that front. But over the last four years, the two hitters have been virtually indistinguishable. Carter gets ripped for striking out too much, but over that stretch he’s hit .219/.315/.470 — good for a 113 OPS+. Napoli has hit .243/.347/.448 in that time frame — a 112 OPS+. Basically, Napoli has hit in better offensive environments but has otherwise put up basically the same numbers. Carter will come much cheaper than Napoli — probably on a one-year deal worth maybe $7-8 million — but then it comes down to how much a team values the clubhouse stuff. Carter is going to be a value pick for someone this offseason. Carter is five years younger than Napoli, and whoever signs him will also have control of him through 2018.
OF Rajai Davis
The fit here is less clear with Robbie Grossman on the roster, but the Twins liked Davis before last offseason and he’d have value as a platoon partner with Eddie Rosario as well as a roving fourth outfielder. He led the AL with 43 stolen bases last year and was nearly the hero of the World Series with his Game 7 home run off Aroldis Chapman. He turned 36 during the playoffs, so he wouldn’t be looking for a long-term commitment. He hit just .249/.306/.388 last season, but he’s a useful player either way with his speed and relatively solid defense. He’d be a good glue guy, and again there’s the Falvey/Indians influence.
SP Jason Hammel
Health-willing, Hammel is the most steady pitcher left on the market. He turned 34 in September, but has been good for a sub-4.00 ERA the last three years while posting above-average strikeout rates and good walk rates. There are a couple negatives, however. He’s pitched in front of the spotless Cubs defense the past two seasons, resulting in low BABIP marks that wouldn’t necessarily translate elsewhere. He’s also fairly homer prone, with rates of 1.21 and 1.35 home runs per nine over the last two seasons. Hammel also battled elbow issues down the stretch and as a result did not appear in the playoffs for the Cubs. He should still be able to land a three-year deal in excess of $10 million per year. Are the Twins willing to go there? That seems unlikely.
SP Tyson Ross
Ross was non-tendered by the Padres rather than being paid about $9 million through the arbitration process. When healthy, Ross is a big-time strikeouts and grounders guy who will battle control from time-to-time. Ross made just one start this season for the Padres before battling shoulder issues the rest of the way. Ultimately, he had a procedure done for thoracic outlet syndrome and his status for Opening Day next season is in question. There’s no guarantee he’ll ever be fully healthy again, but the gamble on a one-year deal has already made him a popular target. A healthy Ross would be the ace of the Twins rotation, for what it’s worth.
SP Colby Lewis
The Twins were interested in Lewis when he came back from overseas before the 2010 season, and he’s gone on to be pretty darn useful after an early-career flameout. His durability has ebbed and flowed, as he’s had three 200-inning seasons since 2010 but also one with 170 and two with fewer than 120. This year he threw just 116.1 innings in the bigs as a lat issue landed him on the 60-day DL. He’s alternated opposite seasons the last two years; in 2015 he had a high ERA (4.66) but fairly good peripherals (4.17 FIP). He flipped the script this past season, with a solid 3.71 ERA and a FIP of 4.81 as home runs, an unsustainable BABIP and a narrowing of his K/BB rate all conspired to make him look less effective. The odds are in favor of him re-upping with Texas as he enters his age-37 season, but there’s the Levine connection that could keep the Twins in the race. The question they have to ask is whether it’s worth bouncing a youngster from the rotation for Lewis — such as Trevor May, Jose Berrios or Adalberto Mejia.
SP T.J. House
The House connective with Falvey in Cleveland makes sense. When he’s been healthy, he’s been a darn good pitcher, too. The 2014 season was House’s best, as he fanned 7.1 batters per nine, walked just 1.9 and induced grounders at a 60.9 percent rate over 102 innings. For his career, he’s got decent strikeout rates, tons of grounders and has done a fairly good job limiting home runs. A recent report suggested he might be closer to signing elsewhere, but he’d be a great fit in Minnesota as a reclamation project. House pitched poorly in a brief 2015 stint with Cleveland and only made four appearances spanning 2.2 innings with the team this season before being taken off the 40-man roster. He’s one of the better flyer candidates this offseason.
UTIL Chris Coghlan
Coghlan is a Swiss-Army Knife who can play all over the diamond and, when he’s right, is a fairly competent hitter. He’s played more than 200 career innings in all three outfield positions as well as second and third base, and has a respectable career batting line of .260/.335/.402. He shouldn’t cost a ton, can run a bit and can play all over the diamond.
IF Luis Valbuena
There hasn’t been a ton of free-agent steam around Valbuena, who had surgery to repair his right hamstring tendon in late August but should be just fine for the spring. He might not be the second coming of Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion, but Valbuena’s late-career turnaround has quietly been very impressive. Valbuena bounced around with the Mariners, Indians and Cubs for the first six seasons of his MLB career and hit just .222/.302/.352. He’s turned a corner over the last three seasons however, starting with his final season in a Cubs uniform onto his last two with the Astros. He’s hit .243/.334/.442 over the last three seasons — a 114 OPS+ over his ages 28-30 seasons — while playing first, second and third base. The short version is that he can really hit and can play all over the field. Someone will get a nice deal here.
IF Erick Aybar
Aybar really struggled to start the season in Atlanta, but turned this around by hitting a respectable .250/.341/.350 in 29 games with the Tigers down the stretch. He’ll turn 33 just after the New Year and won’t cost a ton, and in the past has been a high-contact guy who plays fairly steady defense at short. A team could do way worse for shortstop insurance/a utility guy.
OF Michael Saunders
He’s basically only a free agent because he’s a walking injury risk. He got into 140 games this past season after playing in just nine the year before, but when he’s healthy he’s a really, really good hitter. He hit .253/.338/.478 with the Blue Jays last season and was not given a Qualifying Offer, so he’s basically fair game. Other than some interest from Baltimore and maybe a reunion with Toronto, his market has been fairly quiet thus far. He had a poor defensive year, which can probably be tied squarely to missing a large chunk of 2015 with a knee injury. He’d certainly help this team offensively.
OF Coco Crisp
This would solely be from a leadership standpoint, though that might not be the worst thing in the world. Crisp rode the wave to the World Series with the Indians, but after spending the last seven seasons with the A’s might not want risk going down the road of losing again at age 37. Frankly, Crisp hit a respectable .231/.302/.397 (a 91 OPS+) and still has a little power and speed, though defensively he doesn’t have much to give — especially not as it pertains to throwing the ball. On a minor-league deal with fourth-outfielder potential, he wouldn’t be a total disaster.
DH Pedro Alvarez
Alvarez is just a masher. There’s not much more to say. He won’t turn 30 until February and is coming off a year where he hit .251/.326/.522 against righties — a .358 wOBA and 123 wRC+. Maybe you can get that kind of production out of Kennys Vargas? I don’t know, but Alvarez is bound to thump 20 home runs for someone fairly cheaply next season.
1B/DH Adam Lind
Lind is a solid bounce-back type who is heading into his age-34 season. After three straight years with wRC+ marks over 100, Lind slumped badly at Safeco last season, hitting just .239/.286/.431 overall (92 wRC+). Steamer sees him as a .268/.336/.449 hitter next season, which is a 108 wRC+ — better than the projected 103 mark for Napoli. He could also provide some Mauer insurance at first base — though Vargas can do that as well.
So what do you think? Any of these names you like? Hate? Let us know in the comments!