The Minnesota Twins exhibited significant growth in 2017, winning 85 games just one season after crumbling to the depths of 103-loss despair. A lot of it was done with in-house guys, as the only significant additions were a decent reliever (Matt Belisle) and a good catcher (Jason Castro).
The rest of the bump came from within. But if we saw anything in October, it was that, while the Twins were impressive in 2017, they were still a cut below the teams that played deep into the autumn.
That all changes this offseason.
The Twins have the ability to maximize their talent with some payroll flexibility that starts as soon as next winter. Large contracts like Joe Mauer, Brian Dozier and Ervin Santana come off the books then, and Phil Hughes ($13.2 million) is just a year behind that. What it means is basically this: while the youngsters are still in their cheap years, the front office should act quickly to add some veteran glue types to see what this team is capable off in the near-term.
Houston did it with guys like Josh Reddick, Carlos Beltran and Evan Gattis. The Twins can structure deals this offseason with some more money toward the back when they don’t have much payroll committed — for instance, they have just $24.2 million committed to 2019 and just $500k on a buyout to Byungho Park that is fully committed in 2020 — or they can wait out this next year and hit the market hard when guys like Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon, Yasmani Grandal and a host of starting pitchers hit the market.
But going another year down the road without supplementing this core gets the team closer to bigger paydays from some of the great young players on this roster — and that’s risky. So with that in mind, here’s this offseason’s winter blueprint — and it’s what some might call a non-typical Twins offseason:
- Matt Belisle (attempt to re-sign late in winter if he’s still available)
- Bartolo Colon (do not attempt to re-sign)
- Dillon Gee (same as Belisle)
- Glen Perkins (offer minor-league deal with invite to spring training)
- Hector Santiago (see Belisle and Gee)
There’s nothing too crazy here. If all else falls apart and the Twins want to bring back Belisle on a one-year deal, that isn’t egregious. It’s not something the Twins should be considering right out of the gates however, as despite the strong finish to his season, Belisle is still heading into the twilight of his career. Gee gave the Twins some solid innings but they should aim higher, and Santiago has good enough career numbers that he might be an interesting fall-back option. Honestly, he has been really bad as a Twin, but who knows? Maybe he could be good out of the bullpen. A lefty who adds a couple ticks when shifting to the pen? Sounds familiar. Speaking of, I’m all for a reunion with Perkins to see where he’s at after a winter of workouts. No harm, no foul.
- Nik Turley (re-sign to minor-league deal)
- Buddy Boshers (re-sign to minor-league deal)
- Kennys Vargas (sell rights overseas or explore trade)
- Ryan O’Rourke (activate from 60-day DL, re-sign to minor-league deal)
- Michael Tonkin (do not attempt to re-sign)
I don’t think these are all that controversial. In fact, if the Twins need the roster spot, they could probably outright Phil Hughes, too. He won’t be claimed with $26.4 million left on his deal, and will possibly need time to recuperate from a recurrence of thoracic outlet syndrome. Bringing back this trio of lefties for some minor-league depth won’t hurt, either.
Arbitration decisions (figures via MLB Trade Rumors)
- Chris Gimenez – $1 million (tender)
- Eduardo Escobar – $4.9 million (tender)
- Kyle Gibson – $5.3 million (tender)
- Ehire Adrianza – $1 million (tender)
- Robbie Grossman – $2.4 million (tender, but trade)
- Trevor May – $600k (tender)
- Ryan Pressly – $1.6 million (tender)
Nothing too wild here either, though the Grossman move might ruffle some feathers. We have….bigger plans at DH, and moving his salary might be necessary to keep things reasonable. Keeping him as a fourth outfielder isn’t the worst idea, either. Gimenez might give some folks pause, but a backup catcher hitting .220/.350/.382 with respectable defensive numbers who only costs a cool mill will probably be brought back. Read the rest of the article before you get upset about that one.
It’ll be interesting to see what role May is put into upon his return from Tommy John surgery, but there’s room for him in the rotation or bullpen assuming he gets fully healthy. His body wasn’t in love with working as a reliever, but after surgery, maybe it didn’t love starting, either? That’ll be up in the air. Adrianza is a good 25th man, Pressly still has terrific stuff and is cheap and we’ll give Gibson one more crack here. He was really good down the stretch, and if all else fails, could give the team some help in the bullpen with his ability to induce grounders. The Twins should at least consider trying that before cutting him loose.
The elephant in the room is this: Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Byron Buxton are all on the same arbitration track. That is, they’ll hit arbitration for the first time after next season, and be free-agent eligible after the 2022 season. One year later, Jose Berrios and Jorge Polanco enter the conversation. We aren’t going to propose any extensions for these guys at this point, but it’s clear that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will have to cross these bridges relatively quickly.
Extensions talks with Brian Dozier can be on the table, but it’s hard to know how far that’ll go. He’ll be 31 in May this season — his walk year contract-wise — and probably deserves a four-year deal. If the Twins attack the situation early, maybe they can tear up his current deal and sign a new four-year deal that takes them through age-34 instead of 35? It’s also worth wondering if the future Twins infield is Miguel Sano at first, Nick Gordon at second, Jorge Polanco at short and Dozier at third. Mix in Joe Mauer as a future potential bench bat — he too needs to have extension talks with the Twins about his final years — and Brent Rooker to play LF/1B/DH, and this is a pretty sturdy offense moving forward.
MLB Free Agency
- Sign 1B/DH Carlos Santana to a three-year, $50 million deal ($14-$18-$18)
- Sign RP Pat Neshek to a two-year, $12 million deal ($6-$6)
- Sign RP Juan Nicasio to a three-year, $21 million deal ($7-$7-$7)
- Sign SP Lance Lynn to a four-year, $64 million deal ($12-$16-$18-$18)
This is….aggressive, but we like it. Santana atop the order allows the Twins to shift Dozier further down the lineup and gives it added depth and perhaps the best batting eye this side of Joey Votto. Santana pollutes the bases, hits from both sides and has no real discernible platoon splits over his career. He’s the perfect fit for what the Twins are trying to do, and if he insists on playing first base, the team can have some give-and-take there with Mauer getting more DH and rest days. He plays better when his time on-field is metered, anyway.
Bringing Neshek home makes too much sense. The Twins can mend some fences, bring home a fan favorite and lock down the later innings from the right side with Neshek, who has a 2.50 ERA with nearly a strikeout per inning over his last six seasons — spanning nearly 300 innings.
Also on the bullpen side of things is Nicasio, who would almost certainly be installed as the team’s closer. Nicasio’s year was weird in that he played for three teams — waivers, man — but opposing batters hit just .217/.277/.333 against him, and he absolutely nuked lefties (.544 OPS). He doesn’t walk anyone, strikes out a batter per inning, throws hard (95.4 mph average last year) and has double-digit whiff rates on both his fastball (10.8 percent) and slider (11.3 percent). The slider rate isn’t ridiculous, but that’s a really good rate on a fastball. He’ll also spend most of next year at the age of 31, so he’s not terribly old.
Adding two relievers of this caliber also allows the Twins to shift other guys up. Trevor Hildenberger was absolutely terrific last year, and can mix-and-match toward the backs of games to give the Twins really, really good depth.
Getting Lynn after a decent return season from Tommy John surgery should be a shrewd move. The cliche is that pitchers are typically better the second year back, and if Lynn is close to as good as he was before the surgery, that’s a huge boost for the Twins. Lynn, who was perennially one of the most underrated pitchers in the game before he was cut open, had a career ERA of 3.37 (3.36 FIP) with nearly a strikeout per inning in 791.1 innings before getting hurt. Even his return numbers last year weren’t horrible — 3.43 ERA, 7.4 strikeouts per nine, 1.23 WHIP — though his FIP (4.82) was weighed down by a penchant for giving up homers.
Lynn was much, much better in that respect in the second half — seven homers in 84 innings — and also had a 3.21 ERA after the break. No pitcher is without risk — and Lynn clearly typifies this — but that’s why he’s not as costly as one might expect, also. Erv-Jose-Lance could win a playoff series — especially with a much-improved bullpen behind it.
Lynn is also a terrific interview:
Target in MiLB Free Agency
- SP T.J. House
- SP Wily Peralta
- SP Brett Anderson
- SP Justin Masterson
- SP Mike Bolsinger
- SP Casey Kelly
- RP Paco Rodriguez
- RP Seth Maness
- RP Felix Doubront
- RP Michael Mariot
- RP Yimmi Brasoban
- RP Kevin Quackenbush
- RP Jonny Venters
- RP Huston Street
Pitching, pitching and more pitching. Next?
- C – Jason Castro ($8 million)
- 1B – Joe Mauer ($23 million)
- 2B – Brian Dozier ($9 million)
- 3B – Miguel Sano ($545k)
- SS – Jorge Polanco ($545k)
- LF – Eddie Rosario ($545k)
- CF – Byron Buxton ($545k)
- RF – Max Kepler ($545k)
- DH – Carlos Santana ($14 million)
The Twins were fourth in runs scored in the AL in 2017, and this lineup bangs. It’s better than last year, and with the continued growth of Polanco, Buxton and Kepler could be extremely, extremely tough 1-8.
We’d probably go like this on Opening Day:
- Santana DH
- Mauer 1B
- Dozier 2B
- Sano 3B
- Rosario LF
- Buxton CF
- Kepler RF
- Polanco SS
- Castro C
That lineup can win the AL Central — seriously.
Total committed to lineup: $56.725 million
- C – Chris Gimenez ($1 million)
- IF – Eduardo Escobar ($4.9 million)
- IF – Ehire Adrianza ($1 million)
- OF – Zack Granite ($545k)
Grossman instead of Granite makes some sense — needing a fourth outfielder to handle center is less of a need when all three starters can — but ultimately this bench is….fine. It’s not great, it’s certainly not bad. Adrianza is what the Twins wanted Danny Santana to be all along.
The Twins should also consider working out a deal with Escobar….say, three years and $15 million? He’s certainly valuable off the bench, and was a godsend when Sano went down. He’s beloved in the clubhouse and community, and can play all over without being an eyesore. Good teams have guys like Escobar on their rosters.
Again, people will be upset about including Gimenez, but he was useful last year. Maybe he’s on the outs, but it’s hard to imagine it. They’ll find a way to bring Mitch Garver along.
Total committed to bench: $7.99 million ($64.715 million running total)
- SP – Ervin Santana ($13.5 million)
- SP – Lance Lynn ($12 million)
- SP – Jose Berrios ($545k)
- SP – Kyle Gibson ($5.3 million)
- SP – Adalberto Mejia ($545k)
Now imagine this rotation with Stephen Gonsalves and Fernando Romero in it. Not bad, huh? This isn’t a drastically overpaid rotation, and we didn’t mention it earlier, but we’re structuring these contracts to be back-loaded just a bit on the two big ones to allow the Mauer deal, among others, to pass. Again, this rotation can win a series in the postseason — and maybe more. It should be backed by a solid bullpen, and both of those being better is a symbiotic relationship.
Total committed to rotation: $31.89 million ($96.605 million running total)
- RP – Ryan Pressly ($1.6 million)
- RP – Tyler Duffey ($545k)
- RP – Taylor Rogers ($545k)
- RP – Alan Busenitz ($545k)
- RP – Trevor Hildenberger ($545k)
- RP – Pat Neshek ($6 million)
- RP – Juan Nicasio ($7 million)
Moving everyone up the ladder means this bullpen is insanely talented, and could get better with a healthy May or Chargois, or the continued improvement of John Curtiss and/or Moya. This isn’t going to make anyone forget about the 2015 Royals, but there aren’t many weaknesses here.
Total committed to bullpen: $16.78 million ($113.385 million running total)
- Byungho Park ($3 million)
- Phil Hughes ($13.2 million)
- Trevor May ($600k)
So, without these guys it would be a pretty reasonable team salary-wise. At $113.385 million, it’d only be roughly $5 million ahead of last year’s numbers and $9 million under where the team finished 2016 according to Cot’s. But if ownership can view these players as sunk costs — not May, but the other two — there’s no real reason a $130ish million payroll is out of the question.
Plus, this team would be really, really good.
Total committed to non-25-man roster players: $16.8 million
Overall total committed to Opening Day roster: $130.185 million