Minnesota Twins 2020-21 Hot Stove primer

Major League Baseball’s Hot Stove season is upon us, although it might take longer than usual to get warm.

With the uncertainty of if a full 2021 season is viable, or even when and where spring training can begin, not to mention profits being down after a 60-game season which had no fans during the regular-season, only a select few free agents are expecting to draw in big bucks. The rest … it might be a lot of waiting around until things clear up.

If last year is any indication, taking it slow is up the Minnesota Twins’ alley. The Twins made no trades until January and didn’t sign a free agent (not counting a re-signing) until Dec. 10.

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They weren’t shy from making big moves, though, signing free-agent third baseman Josh Donaldson and trading for starting pitcher Kenta Maeda, who ended up being a Cy Young finalist.

With Minnesota trying to get over the playoff hump, could more big moves be on the way this offseason?

Well, it’s hard to anticipate trades a team might make. Free agents? There’s always room for conjecture.

That being said, below we give a position-by-position synopsis on where Minnesota stands heading into the 2021 season and some potential additions (also keep in mind that more free agents will become available as teams nontender arbitration-eligible players):

 

STARTING PITCHING

Minnesota has a strong top three with Jose Berrios, who is arbitration eligible, Maeda and Michael Pineda. Randy Dobnak, who made 10 starts and posted a 4.05 ERA (ERA+ 108) and 1.350, also will remain in consideration for a spot depending on how the offseason goes.

Rich Hill (3.03 ERA, 1.164 WHIP) and Jake Odorizzi (6.59 ERA in four starts) are back on the free-agent market.

The Twins have a couple of prospects knocking on the door in Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran, but with no minor leagues this past year perhaps their timetable will be pushed back (plus, how much will a playoff contender want to rely on an unproven rookie(s)?).

The big fish in the free-agent market is Trevor Bauer. Cincinnati did make him a qualifying offer – which Bauer already rejected – so it would cost a draft pick to sign him. Rebounding from a so-so 2019 season, Bauer led the National League with a 1.73 ERA and 0.795 WHIP in the shortened 2020 season. In 2018, Bauer had a breakout season posting a 2.21 ERA with Cleveland (which Minnesota is obviously aware).

A Plan B could be someone like Masahiro Tanaka, who had a 3.56 ERA and 1.167 WHIP in 2020 and owns a career 3.74 ERA and 1.130 WHIP in seven seasons with the Yankees. A potential other option, Marcus Stroman, accepted a qualifying offer from the New York Mets and will return to that club in 2021 after opting out last year.

James Paxton could be a signing with an eye on a rebound. Paxton missed most of the season with a back injury then had a 6.64 ERA in five starts. But from 2013-19 he posted a 3.50 ERA and 1.206 WHIP over 131 starts. Word of warning: his agent is Scott Boras, so perhaps don’t expect too much (if any) of a discount.

 

RELIEF PITCHING

If there’s one position that could get an overhaul this offseason it’s the bullpen.

Tyler Clippard, Trevor May and Sergio Romo are all free agents, the latter having his team option declined.

Closer Taylor Rogers converted 9 of 11 save opportunities but had a 4.05 ERA and 1.500 WHIP over 20 innings. After allowing under 9.0 hits per nine innings in each of the previous three seasons, Rogers gave up 11.7/9 in the shortened 2020 season. Right-handers, who he mainly faced (78 plate appearances) hit him at a .311/.346/.486 rate. Rogers is arbitration eligible (he would have earned $4.45 million in a full 2020 season) and is a potential nontender candidate.

Tyler Duffey is also arbitration eligible, but has a lower salary ($1.2 million fully) and also had a better season (1.88 ERA, 0.792 WHIP).

Even counting that pair and perhaps Jorge Alcala, Caleb Thielbar and Matt Wisler, all of whom performed well in 2020, there’s room for more.

Potential closers include another left-hander, Brad Hand, who led the majors with 16 saves with Cleveland last year while posting a 2.05 ERA, 0.773 WHIP and 11.9 K/9, and Liam Hendriks, who has had a sub-2 ERA, under a 1.000 WHIP and better than 13.0 K/9 in each of the last two seasons with Oakland.

There are always a plethora of relievers on the market, so Minnesota shouldn’t have trouble filling whatever void it deems necessary.

 

CATCHER

Minnesota appears to be set behind the plate with Mitch Garver and Ryan Jeffers, the latter of whom a former second-round pick who made his major-league debut in 2020.

Willians Astudillo is still around as a third-stringer and potential utility player.

The one issue with the Garver-Jeffers tandem is both are known for their offense and not-so-much their defense.

Could that mean a return of Alex Avila, who, unlike the three mentioned above, bats lefty? Or someone like switch-hitters Sandy Leon or Matt Wieters?

Either way, it’d be in a backup role as Garver should once again see the brunt of the action in 2021.

 

FIRST BASE

Miguel Sano is signed through 2022, so unless he’s traded or moved to designated hitter, he’ll be once again manning first for the Twins next season.

In the latter case, if you’re wondering, here’s who MLB.com lists as first basemen on the free-agent market: Asdrubal Cabrera, Charles Culberson, C.J. Cron, Phil Gosselin, Jedd Gyorko, Mitch Moreland, Logan Morrison, Daniel Murphy Carlos Santana, Eric Thames and Ryan Zimmerman.

Is anyone there a major improvement over what Minnesota has? Perhaps Mitch Moreland who has slugged over .500 each of the last two years but has trouble against left-handed pitching.  However, the Twins aren’t paying Sano to be a platoon player (and he also struggled mightily against lefties in 2020, although is slugging .522 vs. southpaws in his career).

Santana is a known name to the Twins having played in Cleveland, but he’s coming off a year in which he hit .199/.349/.350 and he turns 35 in April.

 

SECOND BASE

In 124 career games, Luis Arraez owns a slash line of .331/.390/.429. He turns 24 years old in April and is under team control until 2025.

In other words, it seems doubtful the Twins will look to the free-agent market here. But, if they did, Kolten Wong would be an interesting choice. He has more power than Arraez and is a better defender – having won back-to-back Gold Gloves – but he’s also 30 and is going to command a decent price on the open market.

Former first-round pick Nick Gordon is 25 and yet to taste the majors. Travis Blankenhorn made his debut in 2020, appearing in one game. Either could fill a utility role vacated by Ehire Adrianza and Marwin Gonzalez, both of whom are free agents.

If Minnesota wants to fill that utility role via free agency, beyond the two former Twins, there’s someone like Kike Hernandez, who can plan all over the infield and outfield.

 

SHORTSTOP

Jorge Polanco is signed through 2023 with team options in 2024 and ’25.

Meanwhile, top prospect Royce Lewis is knocking on the door to the majors.

Minnesota won’t make any drastic moves here in free agency but it’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out in both the short and long term.

 

THIRD BASE

Josh Donaldson is signed through 2023 at $21 million per season with a $16 million team option or $8 million buyout in 2024.

Moving on.

 

OUTFIELD

Things get interesting here for Minnesota, and not in terms of free agency.

The Twins promoted Brent Rooker last season and he played in seven games, going 9-for-16 (.316) with two doubles and a home run. Highly-thought-of prospect Alex Kirilloff was on the postseason roster and went 1-for-4. Rooker is 26 and needs no more seasoning. Kirilloff is ready for the big show.

Now, how do they fit in with a crowded outfield?

Right fielder Max Kepler is signed through 2023 (with a team option to 2024).

That turns us to left and center.

Both Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton are arbitration eligible and non-tender candidates.

Kirilloff has played a little center in the minors but is mainly a corner outfielder. Rooker is also a corner outfielder who has spent time at first base.

Minnesota’s only other “true” center fielder on the roster is Jake Cave. Buxton would have made $3.075 million if 2020 had been a full season and he’s not eligible for free agency until 2023. It seems likely the Twins would bring him back unless they feel like making a big swing for someone like George Springer.

Rosario, however, would have made $7.75 million in 2020. He’s eligible for free agency after the 2021 season. His time with Minnesota could well be over.

 

DESIGNATED HITTER

Nelson Cruz turned out to be quite the signing for the Twins. In 2019, he mashed 41 home runs and hit .311/.392/.639 in 120 games. This past year, it was 14 homers and .303/.397/.595 in 53 games.

Cruz hit 37+ home runs in each season from 2014-19 and was on pace to do it again in 2020, if there were more games played (and he stayed healthy).

However, Cruz turns 41 in July and reportedly is looking for at least a two-year contract.

Is he worth another big investment? Or should Minnesota try and go younger with someone like Marcell Ozuna, who just turned 30 on Nov. 12. Playing for Atlanta in 2020, Ozuna led the National League in home runs (18) and RBI (56) while batting .338/.431/.636. Ozuna hit 20+ home runs five times in six seasons from 2014-19 with Miami and St. Louis, with a high of 37 in 2017.

There’s also the option of saving money for another position and going with someone like Rooker at DH or alternating players to give them a day off defensively.