Twins

What Should the Twins Do with Their Impending Free Agents?

Photo Credit: David Berding (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Twins have only played 39 games in 2021 and already it looks like the season is lost. A playoff push seems far-fetched at this point, making this one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory. At this point, it looks like all the team can do is look toward the future.

That means the Twins are going to have some tough decisions to make on some of the players on their roster. Players who were at one point brought in to help push the team into postseason contention could soon be valuable trade pieces come late July.

Nelson Cruz

Cruz has been one of the most valuable Twins over the last three seasons. On the field, he has amazed the baseball world by defying Father Time, hitting 66 home runs and driving in 164 runs over his ages 38-40 seasons. Cruz has still been producing at the plate this year with nine home runs, a .367 wOBA, and a .530 slugging percentage.

Cruz’s presence off the field has been crucial too. The 13-year veteran has provided a calm and steady hand to guide the players and blended well with the playing style of his manager Rocco Baldelli. Cruz was also brought in to mentor Miguel Sano, who had a breakout season when Cruz joined the team two years ago.

Unfortunately, Cruz might not be of much help to the Twins after this season. He signed a one-year, $13 million deal in the offseason and it would be surprising to see the Twins bring him back again. They wouldn’t budge on giving Cruz a second year to his deal over the offseason because they didn’t want to be locked into a contract with a 41-year-old player. With Cruz still providing solid production at the plate, it would be wise for the Twins to try and trade him sometime this summer to maximize his value. Cruz needs to be dealt by the trade deadline.

J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker

Happ and Shoemaker were two veterans brought in to provide depth for the Twins’ pitching staff. The Twins have been interested in Happ for some time and made a run at him before he signed with the Yankees before the 2019 season. But he has been inconsistent this season, pitching over 31 innings in six starts while recording an ERA of 4.26. Over 41% of his balls in play have been hard-hit, according to Statcast.

Happ is a veteran who came to Minnesota to make a playoff run. Now it seems more likely he’ll be making a postseason push with another team this year. Happ won’t bring back a top prospect in return but there will be a market for an experienced lefty. Teams looking to make a World Series run would value a veteran lefty like Happ and get the Twins a mid-level prospect in return.

Shoemaker was brought in on a one-year deal to try and compete for the final spot in the rotation. He was given the nod over Randy Dobnak because of his eight years of MLB experience, but he has been a disappointment this season. In seven starts, Shoemaker has gone 34 innings with a 6.62 ERA, recorded a FIP of 6.75, a strikeout rate 5% below his previous career-low, and a WAR of minus-0.5. There isn’t much value for Shoemaker and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change. He may be designated for assignment as soon as Dobnak is ready to come up from St. Paul and take his spot in the rotation.

Alexander Colomé and Hansel Robles

Colomé and Robles were added to replace Trevor May, Sergio Romo, and Matt Wisler.

After signing a one-year, $6.25 million deal, Colomé was a disaster in April with an 8.31 ERA in just over eight innings pitched. Opponents posted a .316 average and .426 OBP against him in the season’s first month. Since being removed from the closer role, Colomé has bounced back in May. The righty hasn’t allowed a run all month and has only allowed four baserunners and recorded five strikeouts in six innings of work.

Given that the Twins are unlikely to spend big money on the bullpen, it’s unlikely he returns next year unless he takes a massive pay cut. If Colomé continues to bounce back, the Twins might be able to salvage the signing by getting some kind of a return for him in July.

Making up some of those late-inning spots has been Robles, who came in on a cheaper, one-year, $2 million signing over the winter. He hasn’t always been lights out, but he has put together a solid start to the season with a 3.45 ERA, a .132 opponent average, and a 1.02 WHIP while only allowing one home run in over 15 innings pitched.

With his modest price tag this season, the Twins have the flexibility to bring back Robles even with a pay increase if needed. He’s not a long-term answer in the bullpen but would be a cheap and productive veteran piece to keep around in the short term. Especially given that the Twins need to do a slight reset with that group.

Michael Pineda

Pineda was signed in 2018 as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery and became one of Minnesota’s best arms in 2019 before he was suspended for using a diuretic. After getting a two-year extension, Pineda kept his momentum going once he returned last year and is still a reliable starter this year. In seven starts, Pineda has a 2.79 ERA, a .216 BABIP, and an increased strikeout rate from the past two seasons.

Big Mike has played well enough under Baldelli and pitching coach Wes Johnson to earn another extension after this season, but he’s getting expensive. He’s making $10 million this year and likely will demand a raise with his extension, which might be too much for a No. 3 starter. There might also be a good market for him. This one will be a difficult decision for the Twins, but there’s a good chance Pineda is playing his last season in Minnesota.

Andrelton Simmons

Simmons was brought over to provide defensive stability at shortstop with a one-year, $10.5 million deal over the winter. He’s provided decent production at the plate with a .343 OBP and has been increasing his walks, but the Twins signed him primarily for his defense. He hasn’t been as good defensively as he was in the past, but he does have one defensive run saved so far this year. By playing Simmons at short, the Twins were able to move Jorge Polanco to second base, which is more suited to his skill set. He has two defensive runs saved this season.

However, the main reason for the Simmons signing wasn’t for Polanco. It was for top prospect Royce Lewis. Simmons is more of a stop gap to fill out the shortstop spot until Lewis is ready to get to the big league level. But after Lewis tore his ACL in Spring Training this spring, bringing back Simmons on another one-year deal would be a good insurance policy to keep Polanco at second and give Lewis more time to develop once he recovers.

It’s never fun to discuss a teardown of a team that came into the season with playoff expectations, especially a team that fell apart a month and a half into the season. But admitting the season is lost and trying to get some kind of longer-term value for players who won’t be on the roster next year.

It was just back in 2018 that the Twins shipped off Brian Dozier for Luke Raley and Devin Smeltzer, the latter having contributed at the big league level over the last three seasons. Standout reliever Ryan Pressly was also traded during the 2018 deadline. It was surprising at the time with Pressly’s upside but the Twins were able to get flamethrower Jorge Alcala and outfielder Gilberto Celestino in return — two young players who provide promise for years to come.

Time will tell what’s going to happen to the handful of players who will be entering free agency in 2022. Until then, the Twins brass will have some decisions to make on what the future of these players will be.

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Photo Credit: David Berding (USA TODAY Sports)

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