The Minnesota Twins are certainly still in the thick of things in the Wild Card race, but it’s never too early to look to the offseason to get a feel for what the team might do to improve. In fact, there could be a lot of moves as the team looks to reframe itself in the images of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, as we’ve already seen a personnel purge in the scouting and analytics departments with more to come.

That could even include at the top, with manager Paul Molitor working on the last year of his deal without an extension in hand. But we aren’t here to speculate on Molitor’s future, and we also won’t include the potential for any trades. Those things are just too complicated and intricate to muddle in, and we’re just here to have a little fun.

Let’s first take a look at the shell of who is likely to return to the Twins next year, and take a peak at some of the open roster spots to see where we’ll be filling players in.

Starting Lineup

  • C – Jason Castro
  • 1B – Joe Mauer
  • 2B – Brian Dozier
  • 3B – Miguel Sano
  • SS – Jorge Polanco
  • LF – Eddie Rosario
  • CF – Byron Buxton
  • RF – Max Kepler
  • DH – OPEN

In other words, really only the spot at designated hitter is open. Robbie Grossman has done a respectable job (101 wRC+), but is better suited as a bench bat who can help in the corners or late in games as a pinch-hitter when getting a batter on base is a necessity. This has the potential to be a really, really good offense. In theory, you could sign Zack Cozart to play shortstop, but I’d be wary of the contract-year breakout with him.

DH Addition Candidates

Carlos Santana, Indians

Santana would provide a huge lift to the Twins as a leadoff hitter. He takes a ton of walks and still has plenty of pop to spare, and can still be mixed in at first base as well. Getting on base in front of Dozier and friends 220-250 times per year could result in a ton of runs scored, and it just gives the lineup more depth overall. He has no platoon split to speak of, which means he can hit lefties (.813 career OPS) which is something this team desperately needs. He also has the Falvey familiarity factor. Don’t sleep on this connection. He’ll be 32 in April, but if he’ll sign a four-year deal, do it. The qualifying offer price for a free agent like Santana won’t be that steep. Best as yours truly can understand, it would only cost the Twins a third-round pick to sign Santana if the Indians give him a qualifying offer — something they’ll almost certainly do.

J.D. Martinez, Diamondbacks  

Martinez can’t be QO’d because he didn’t spend the full season with a team, but he’ll also have a robust market even though he didn’t return much to the Detroit Tigers in a trade. Martinez hasn’t exactly hit the ground running in Arizona, but he’s still hitting a ridiculous .277/.360/.601. Sano-Martinez could be the new Jose Bautista-Edwin Encarnacion. You’d have to sell him on not playing defense too much, though. He too can hit lefties (.908 OPS).

Jose Bautista, Blue Jays

Speaking of Bautista, this would really be buying low, and you’d have to have your scouts take a look at him to make sure the bat hasn’t slowed to the point where he can get back on track. That’s especially true since he’s been in a two-year downturn. He came into Friday night hitting just .209/.318/.382. No, I also don’t particularly care that he’s mashed at Target Field. He wouldn’t be facing former Twins pitchers if he signed in Minnesota.

Adam Lind, Nationals

He’s had a nice bounce-back season as a part-time player for the Nationals, hitting .291/.345/.476, and probably wouldn’t be too expensive on a one-year deal. He does have a $5 million mutual option for next year, but it’s hard to see that being exercised.

Grab Bag: Lucas Duda, Rays; Yonder Alonso, Mariners; Mitch Moreland, Red Sox; Mark Reynolds, Rockies; Seth Smith, Orioles

There’s a bit of everything here, but it’s mostly guys who can play first base and might have better options elsewhere. None of them feel particularly likely, but all can help you in the DH spot if it comes to that.

Bench

  • C – Mitch Garver
  • IF – Eduardo Escobar
  • IF/OF – Ehire Adrianza
  • OF – Robbie Grossman

This bench is fine. Maybe they upgrade with a thumper, but overall you can fill a lot of holes here. Maybe a non-roster invitee can make things interesting here. How about a J.J. Hardy reunion? No? Trevor Plouffe? The bench here is pretty much set.

Bench Addition Candidates

Honestly, there aren’t really any, unless an Adam Rosales, Cliff Pennington, Eric Sogard or Andres Blanco-type makes you more excited than Adrianza. Jon Jay, Austin Jackson or Cameron Maybin might make sense as a spare outfielder, but it’s not terribly likely the Twins will be in that market.

Starting Rotation

  • Ervin Santana
  • Jose Berrios
  • OPEN
  • OPEN
  • OPEN

It’s probably an open audition for the final three spots, though there’ll be clear favorites. Will the Twins bring back Kyle Gibson? It’s hard to say. Do some of the youngsters deserve a legitimate shot? Sure, but they aren’t written in pen for next year as of this writing. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Twins add a veteran starter and then let the cream rise to the top for the other two spots. Will it be a big-money starter or a buy-low guy? That’s the thing, we don’t really know how Falvey and Levine will operate in that respect. A big-money guy seems unlikely however, given the team’s past.

Rotation Addition Candidates

Jake Arrieta, Cubs

Maybe the Twins won’t be in on Yu Darvish, but it wouldn’t be impossible to be in on Arrieta. Matt Trueblood of Baseball Prospectus and our resident foremost authority on the Cubs said on a recent episode of Midwest Swing that he doesn’t think Arrieta’s market will be as robust as some people might think. Will he sign for five years and $90 million? To be honest, that seems a little light, but at 5/$100m, a lot more teams would be likely to take that gamble than for an extra $5 million per year. He’s had an extended stretch where he wasn’t vintage Arrieta, but even two-thirds of him is a top-30 pitcher in the game.

Trevor Cahill, Royals

Here’s where we get a little funky. Despite not having thrown 200 innings since 2012 with the Diamondbacks, Cahill is somehow still not 30 until next spring. He’s got a career 55.1 percent groundball rate and just recently started striking out hitters by the bucketful. He’s got a 4.38 ERA, but put him in front of a competent defense (.335 BABIP) and he might be a really, really nice find.    

Lance Lynn, Cardinals

It’s been more deception (3.17 ERA) than being truly good (4.72 FIP) for Lynn this year, but this is a guy with a career 3.33 ERA (3.58 FIP) and almost a strikeout per inning. If the second year back from Tommy John surgery truly is better than the first, this would be another guy to grab on the upswing. He’s only heading into his age-31 season.

Alex Cobb, Rays

He’s extremely good (3.50 ERA, 3.68 FIP) when healthy. He’s never really been healthy though, as he’s never made 30 starts or pitched more than 170 innings. He’ll be heading into his age-30 season and again will be worth a look as a buy-low type. It won’t be a bargain-basement deal, however. Everyone knows how good he’s been since he’s pitched a lot against New York and Boston.

Tyler Chatwood, Rockies

The numbers look really bad (5.17 ERA, 5.19 FIP), but look at what he’s done outside of Coors Field this season: 3.78 ERA, 7.4 K/9, 1.24 WHIP. He also has a career groundball rate near 55 percent and won’t turn 28 until the offseason. Falvey’s a pitching guru, so if there’s something here, he’ll find it.  

Jhoulys Chacin, Padres

The numbers look….fine — 4.10 ERA, 7.4 K/9, 1.30 WHIP — but it’s been an extended solid run for Chacin after a tough start. Chacin went into June with an ERA of 5.77, but has been rock-solid since: 3.02 ERA in 15 starts/89.1 innings, .667 OPS against and 72-39 K/BB ratio. He won’t be 30 until January. Hey, there are a lot of interesting buy-low guys this offseason. Huh.  

Marco Estrada, Blue Jays

It hasn’t been terribly pretty overall, but that should bring the price down for a guy who has a career ERA of 4.03 with a FIP of 4.22. In other words, he’s a decent mid-rotation starter who has been terrific in the playoffs (2.64 ERA in nearly 50 innings) and would be a perfect Game 3 starter for a lot of teams in October.

Scott Feldman, Reds

He’s an exit-velocity darling but is going to be coming off arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. He’d be a low-end pickup that would certainly require a hedge, but as a fifth starter teams can do way, way worse.

Bullpen

  • Trevor Hildenberger
  • Tyler Duffey
  • John Curtiss
  • Alan Busenitz
  • Ryan Pressly
  • Taylor Rogers
  • OPEN

This is a really stout bunch, actually. It probably won’t take much supplementing from the outside to make this a really, really nice unit.

Bullpen Addition Candidates

We’re not going to label individual relievers because there are just too many, but it might make sense to fortify the bullpen with some help. Frankly, however, there is a lot of talent here, and signing a reliever to a multi-year deal is a risky proposition. This bullpen could be fairly good just in-house. Some guys who might make sense include Steve Cishek, Tyler Clippard, Brandon Kintzler (again), Seung-hwan Oh, Pat Neshek, Bryan Shaw, Huston Street and perhaps many, many others.

On the Roster Fringes Internally

  • OF Zack Granite
  • OF Daniel Palka
  • DH Kennys Vargas
  • SP/RP Trevor May*
  • SP Phil Hughes*
  • RP Ryan O’Rourke*
  • SP Kyle Gibson
  • SP Adalberto Mejia
  • SP Felix Jorge
  • SP Stephen Gonsalves
  • SP Fernando Romero
  • SP Aaron Slegers
  • SP/RP Dietrich Enns
  • RP Nik Turley
  • RP Randy Rosario
  • RP J.T. Chargois
  • RP Jake Reed
  • RP Tyler Jay

Breakdown

Vargas has to make the roster or be lost on waivers, but it’s hard to get a really strong grip on where he stands in the eyes of Twins decision makers right now. Palka is not a good defensive outfielder, but could be a fit to fill the DH role internally if the brass decides to fill the spot on the cheap. Then again, Vargas might make more sense in that case. Granite is an ideal fourth outfielder who would probably benefit most from a Grossman trade. Grossman can’t play center like most would like from a fourth outfielder, but having three starting outfielders sort of eliminates that necessity.

The guys with asterisks are coming off major injuries, and there’s really no way to know how they’ll slot in. Most likely, the team can’t count on them to be ready to contribute fully right out of the gates.

To be honest, the only spots locked down in the rotation are the first two. The other three are in flux which could make for an interesting offseason. Two of those spots could go to Gibson and Mejia, but that’s not guaranteed. Gibson will be arbitration eligible for the second time in the offseason and will command a salary of probably around $3 million. He’s pitched better of late and still has the look of someone who can figure things out physically, but it’s possible the brass just decides to move on. Mejia has been up and down — not a bad thing for a young pitcher — but may need to earn his way back into the rotation if it’s improved from this year to next externally.

Jorge, Gonsalves, Slegers and Romero all deserve looks as youngsters. Turley may not last on the roster but could re-sign on a minor-league deal, while Rosario is in the mix as a reliever moving forward. Jay, Reed and many others will be in the mix as well. They may not have to add a reliever from outside, really. There’ll be some guys on the 40-man fringes as well, like Buddy Boshers.   

Verdict:

We’d probably snap up one solid start and one of the hitters and go to battle. If you can get Santana to DH for four years and $60 million or thereabouts, that’s probably a fairly good deal. Similarly, finding a starting pitcher for $10-15 million while waiting on guys like Romero and Gonsalves to take hold isn’t a bad idea either. I rather like Cahill as a buy-low, and it might make sense to hedge with another low-end veteran like Estrada, too.

What would you do?


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Brandon Warne covers the Twins for Cold Omaha, and has had his work featured in numerous places across the United States. Locally, Warne’s work has appeared at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press, 1500 ESPN and Go96.3 for writing and audio, and he’s also had written work appear on Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs and cited in the Los Angeles Times. Warne lives in the outer Twin Cities suburbs with his wife, Amanda. Listen to his Cold Omaha podcast Midwest Swing. Follow Brandon on Twitter @Brandon_Warne.

1 COMMENT

  1. I would like to see a three-way battle between Mejia, Gonsalves, and Romero for the final two spots.

    Vargas is a replacement level DH. He’s nice for a team that doesn’t have any better options but he shouldn’t be option 1 for a playoff team; and he’s not good enough defensively to play anywhere else.

    Twins have money to spend this off-season. If all they do is grab is grab a replacement level SP (like Cahill) and a replacement level DH I will be very disappointed.

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