No matter what direction the 2019 season takes the Minnesota Twins, their offseason is going to be filled with intrigue.
Three of the team’s five starting pitchers — Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda — are eligible for free agency, leaving Jose Berrios and Martin Perez, who has a team option, as potentially the sole holdovers heading into 2020. And while the Twins certainly can hope internally that some combination of Brusdar Graterol, Fernando Romero, Jordan Balazovic, Lewis Thorpe, Jhoan Duran and Jorge Alcala can take a step forward and help fill out the rotation, relying on three of them to fill out the rotation of a contender is a losing proposition.
So maybe the Twins resign Gibson, since they’re very familiar with him and his track record of health and what he does on the mound. Maybe they buy into Odorizzi’s step forward this season. Maybe they like the direction Pineda, the youngest of the trio, is trending and try to lock him down.
The Twins could definitely look to the free-agent market for help as well. The current front office group hasn’t yet spent a significant amount of money on a free-agent starter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t, either. If they go down that road, Gerrit Cole is the obvious target, but Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Zack Wheeler could be in play. A little further down the list — but still viable — might be guys like Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Cole Hamels, Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, Tanner Roark, Alex Wood or Michael Wacha. Even Corey Kluber, if his $13.5 million club option is bought out, could be an option.
But maybe the team also gets…..creative.
What about trading left fielder Eddie Rosario? Certainly he could bring back a pretty good starting pitcher with two more years of control left after this season, right?
On the surface, it’s bound to be an unpopular idea. He’s the player who coined the phrase “Bombas” which has taken the Twin Cities by storm this season. He’s the player who has had team-led All-Star campaigns the last two seasons. He’s, by all accounts, one of the more popular players in the clubhouse and certainly a leader among the team’s Latin contingent.
So why even bring it up? Well, because there are reasons it could make sense. Here are a few:
He’s not really an analytics-friendly player
There are 61 qualified outfielders in MLB this season, and Rosario ranks 54th in on-base percentage. The logic here is pretty simple: to score runs, you have to get on base. The slugging percentage (.515) is certainly nice, but ultimately Rosario has a 108 wRC+. For the uninitiated, that means he’s eight percent better than league average offensively. That means he’s tied for 36th among those same 61 outfielders, or in other words, good, but not great.
In a lot of ways it feels like Rosario is a little overrated in the Twin Cities. At the All-Star break, the push was for Rosario to make his first appearance in the Midsummer Classic, but it was clear then and has become even more obvious since that Max Kepler is having a vastly superior season. Sprinkle in that Kepler is playing pretty good defense in center in Byron Buxton’s stead and was really, really good in right — while Rosario has been merely acceptable in left — and it isn’t hard to see which one is the more viable building block.
For a forward-thinking, analytically-inclined front office, it makes sense that Rosario might not be viewed as a critical building block for the future. And while it’d be the opposite of a feel-good move, front office people are in business to make the decisions that at the time might feel cold, but are better for the team in the long run.
He’s about to get expensive…
Don’t mistake this for the idea that the Twins can’t or won’t want to pay Rosario what he’s worth, but it wouldn’t be surprising if his last two years of arbitration eligibility end up costing something like $18-20 million. That’s certainly not cost-prohibitive by any stretch of the imagination, but if the team feels it can get the same production for less while putting those funds into the team elsewhere, that makes a lot of sense.
Again, this isn’t licking the boots of the Pohlad family, but rather saying it makes sense to put that money elsewhere toward the overall budget, such as…
…and the savings from moving him could be used elsewhere to make the team better/more sustainable
To this point, Rosario and the Twins have not agreed on a long-term deal like the ones given to Kepler and Jorge Polanco. Is it due to a difference in opinion of the player’s medium- to long-term value? Is it Rosario’s willingness to gamble on his talent over the next two years in order to cash in when he hits free agency after 2021? Whatever the reason, it hasn’t happened yet — and maybe it won’t.
The money banked by replacing Rosario with players already in the organization could be used to chase some of those pitchers outside of the organization, but it could also be used to lock down Jose Berrios over the long haul as well. Even with his recent slump, there’s no question Berrios is a huge part of the team’s future plans. And while he, like Rosario, has thus far rebuffed the team’s advances, it seems to this writer that he’s much, much more critical to the team’s future than the left fielder is.
Feel free to disagree, as your mileage may vary.
But also keep in mind that it isn’t really about money savings, but rather what Rosario might bring back in a trade. From our vantage point it might be hard to find a team who values Rosario highly enough to make a deal happen — Toronto made sense until they traded their only good pitcher — but it shouldn’t be terribly difficult for the Twins to find a team willing to move a No. 3-type starter in that deal.
Who might that be? Here are just some names off the top of my head:
- Andrew Heaney (LAA)
- Mike Minor (TEX)
- Chris Bassitt (OAK)
- Mike Foltynewicz (ATL)
- Vince Velasquez (PHI)
- Nick Pivetta (PHI)
- Miles Mikolas (STL)
- Anthony DeSclafani (CIN)
- Merrill Kelly (ARI)
- Robbie Ray (ARI)
- Jon Gray (COL)
And really, it’s more about the type/level of pitcher rather than the name.
The team has ready-made replacements who are close to big-league ready
A team coming off 2019 isn’t going to want to hand the reins to very many positions to unproven rookies, but Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach are certainly close enough to big-league ready to start dreaming on them a bit.
Kiriloff may be the best pure hitting prospect the Twins have had since Joe Mauer, and he’s really, really come on strong in August at Pensacola: .322/.354/.533. He may play first base in the long haul, but he can more than handle left field in the meantime. Larnach has also been brilliant in August (.288/.383/.500), and like Kiriloff looks to be fairly close to MLB ready. He has also handled older pitchers very well this season, as he’s slashing .299/.384/.443 against pitchers older than him between two levels this year.
But in the interim, some combination of Marwin Gonzalez, Jake Cave and LaMonte Wade Jr. is more than capable of holding down left field until one or both of the youngsters arrive. With the emergence of Luis Arraez and the continued improvement of Miguel Sano, Gonzalez’s role in the infield may not be super defined heading into next season — the last of his current deal. And even if Gonzalez ends up playing quite a bit of first base next year if the team for any reason moves on from C.J. Cron — which by no means has been indicated at this point — he’s still able to move around wherever the team needs him.
The Twins could also look to the free-agent market for a stopgap left fielder, like Melky Cabrera, Corey Dickerson, Adam Jones or even Avisail Garcia, who in some ways is a fairly similar player to Rosario.
So even if the Twins are gun-shy to entrust a spot in left field to a rookie right out of spring training next year, there are still ample opportunities for the team to mix and match until one of the kids are ready.
Again, this is bound to be unpopular from a PR standpoint — both with fans and in the clubhouse — but the front office is paid to make these kinds of decisions, and it’s better to make a move a year too early than a year too late.