Exploring Varying Levels of a Splashy Offseason for the Twins

Please Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The hot stove is heating up and ready to fire off some steam when the Winter Meetings convene in San Diego starting on Sunday. Cole Hamels went off the board to the Atlanta Braves earlier in the day on Wednesday, and there are rumblings Zack Wheeler could be next.

For the purpose of this exercise, we’ll consider the Minnesota Twins as a possibility for Wheeler, even if he appears to have narrowed his list of suitors to a group that might not include them. It’s not an ideal situation, but for all intents and purposes the Twins could pursue Madison Bumgarner or Hyun-Jin Ryu for similar, but likely a little less, money and still have a successful offseason.

The current payroll number we’re working with $91 million, furnished by Jon Becker and Roster Resource which includes estimated payroll figures for arbitration-eligible players.

What Twins fans (justifiably) want is an entertaining, splashy offseason. They want to see the team break through the glass ceiling payroll-wise and truly take a run at the New York Yankees and Houston Astros of the world.

There are layers to how a team can be aggressive, so let’s take a look at the three tiers I see and how they could be pursued:

The “Spread it Around” Approach

Sign the following players:

Net payroll added: $48-61 million for a season total of about $139-152 million.

This one might be the least popular, but it could also be the most effective. This would not only fortify every level of the roster, but give the team some added depth in key spots as well. Keuchel/Pineda/Porcello could very possibly give the Twins 500 innings out of the Nos. 3-5 spots, with Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer, Brusdar Graterol and others filtering in, and while it’s a group short on name appeal, it’s as stout of a 1-5 as you’ll find this side of Cleveland in the American League.

Shaw and Thames give the Twins adequate corner depth even with C.J. Cron out of the picture — and who knows, maybe he’s still on the team’s radar — with Marwin Gonzalez still around to fill in and obviously Miguel Sano also a key contributor.

Sep 25, 2019; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Eric Thames (7) recasts in the dugout after hitting a solo home run Cincinnati Reds during the first inning at Great American Ball Park. Please Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Castro gives the Twins basically the perfect second catcher — really a 1b to Mitch Garver‘s 1a in that he does some things well that compliment the starter nicely — and there’s no real reason to think he wouldn’t be willing to come back if the money and playing situation are right. Again, in this case, Garver could fill in at first base and DH as well, giving the Twins depth in case Nelson Cruz finally shows age or his wrist acts up again.

Good teams need to prepare for these kinds of things!

Finally, Treinen is probably the biggest low-risk, high-reward reliever on the board — so why not take the plunge?

The “Cautiously Aggressive” Approach

Sign the following players:

  • One of Wheeler/Bumgarner/Ryu ($18-$25m per, three to five years)
  • One of Keuchel/Pineda ($12-15m per, two or three years)
  • One of Thames or Shaw ($4-6m per, one or two years)
  • One of Castro/Robinson Chirinos/Martin Maldonado ($2-5m per, one or two years)
  • RP Sergio Romo ($2m per, one year)
  • RP Treinen ($5-7m per, one year)

Net payroll added: $43-60 million for a season total of about $134-151 million.

The middle ground is a tricky place to be in any scenario. Getting caught with a modestly improved roster that still only wins 92-94 games because the rest of the division improves and the baseball deflates is by no means a desirable outcome, but this should be a little more aggressive than that. We did say ‘splashy’ after all, right?

In this case, the Twins are netting one of the big fish — well, second-tier big fish as it goes — in addition to another quite solid starter. Adding Pineda would be tricky but doable if the team can find a bridge guy they really like — such as Drew Smyly on the lower end or Alex Wood/Kevin Gausman on the high end — to cover his innings until his suspension lapses. Still a rotation of:

  1. Wheeler/Bumgarner/Ryu
  2. Berrios
  3. Odorizzi
  4. Keuchel/Pineda
  5. Dobnak/Smeltzer/Graterol

…will also win plenty of games. Also, if that bridge guy ends up working out, they could slide down to the No. 5 spot and leave the existing trio as fill-in options, which makes a lot of sense, too.

Oct 3, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel (60) in the dugout after being taken out of the game against the St. Louis Cardinals during the fifth inning of game one of the 2019 NLDS playoff baseball series at SunTrust Park. The St. Louis Cardinals won 7-6. Please Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Twins really need to address their corner infield opening with another player from the outside, unless they’re going to start Gonzalez at first or third and bring in another utility guy to form a tag team with Ehire Adrianza off the bench — maybe Matt Duffy, Jose Peraza or Brock Holt — and again, Thames or Shaw seem to be the best fits. I’d also consider Jake Lamb, especially if he checks out well health-wise.

At catcher, one could cast a wide net. Maldonado is terrific defensively, but offers very little with the bat. That might not hurt much if Garver catches 120-130 games. Everyone knows what Castro is capable of, and Chirinos is another offensive-minded catcher coming off a really good year. The Twins showed interest in him last offseason, and he’s a Thad Levine guy from the Texas Ranger days.

As for the bullpen, we’re again hammering the idea of bringing in Treinen while also bringing back Romo, who was a terrific pitcher and maybe an even better clubhouse presence.

The “Hair on Fire” Approach

Sign the following players:

  • One of Wheeler/Ryu/Bumgarner ($18-25m per year, three to five years)
  • 3B Josh Donaldson ($24-25m per year, two or three years)
  • Maldonado ($2m per, probably just one year)
  • One of Thames or Shaw ($4-6m per, one or two years)
  • Romo ($2m per, one year)
  • Treinen ($5-7m per year, one year)
  • Ryan Buchter ($1.5m per, one year)

Trade the following player:

Net payroll added: $48.5-59.5 million for a season total of about $139.5-150.5 million.

It’s time to go for broke. Grabbing one of the best second-tier starters? Get ’em. Terrific all-around third baseman? Get ’em. From there, though, it gets a little leaner.

Sep 24, 2019; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) throws against the Colorado Rockies in the third inning at Oracle Park. Please Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

We’re back at it adding another one of the higher-end pitchers, but Donaldson is a new play. Donaldson silenced all rational doubters with just a terrific age-33 season in Atlanta — he’s 34 on Sunday — and would likely be had on a shorter-term deal for less per year than Anthony Rendon, the consensus crown jewel of the offensive free-agent market. That’s perfect for the Twins, who are likely looking to add Royce Lewis into their offensive mix sometime in the next two years, and could easily slot Sano over at first base to accommodate the very, very solid defensive prowess of Donaldson.

From there, the team would have to tighten the belt a bit. They still address the corner infield with one of the previously-mentioned guys — or Lamb, I suppose — but Maldonado becomes the guy behind Garver, and from there it’s not a sea of well-known names.

Again, we’re hammering the line on Treinen and pretty insistent on bringing back Romo, but Buchter? What’s his deal?

He’s a lefty who turns 33 in February, and he’s never posted an ERA above 3.00 in the parts of five MLB seasons he’s played. Sure, the underlying numbers have wavered to the point where he was non-tendered by the A’s this season, but there’s plenty to work with here. He’s an extreme fly-ball guy, which works fairly well in an outfield patrolled by Byron Buxton. He strikes out guys (9.9 career K/9) in bunches and has kept the ball in the yard — in general (1.09 HR/9) — over his entire career.

The walks are a little iffy (4.0 per nine) and his strand rate has been all over the map, but this is a lefty who sits at 93 mph and is coming off a year where all of his primary pitches had swinging-strike rates above 10 percent.

Whichever team gambles on him will be happy they did.

Oh, and there’s a Rosario trade in here too — talk about burying the lede — which will either reduce the team’s payroll or add another MLB contributor. We won’t address necessarily who’ll come back in a trade — we really have no idea what his value is — but the aggressive move here is to hope that one of Trevor Larnach or Alex Kirilloff is ready sooner or later to take over that spot. In the interim, Gonzalez, LaMonte Wade Jr. and Jake Cave can fill in out there, or maybe the team brings in a decent veteran player on the cheap like Melky Cabrera, Jon Jay, Alex Gordon or Brett Gardner.

Or how about my personal favorite — Hunter Pence?

So which scenario do you like best? I think I know.

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