Ranking 5 best moves by Twins brass Falvey, Levine

The Minnesota Twins reshaped the outlook of the franchise Oct. 3, 2016 by hiring chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine. Over the first three years of the Falvey-Levine reign, Minnesota made the playoffs twice and racked up 101 wins and an MLB-record 307 home runs in 2019. Perhaps the biggest impact Falvey and Levine have made in Minnesota is transforming it into an organization that emphasizes statistical analysis, player development and creativity, not to mention their new-age hirings of manager Rocco Baldelli and pitching coach Wes Johnson. But what are their best transactions involving players? Let’s dive in:

  1. Drafting very, very well

The Twins have had four first-round picks in the Falvey/Levine era: shortstop Royce Lewis (2017), outfielder Brent Rooker (2017), outfielder Trevor Larnach (2018) and infielder Keoni Cavaco (2019). Two of them are listed in MLB’s list of the top 100 prospects in the game — Lewis (No. 9) and Larnach (No. 81). Add in outfielder Alex Kirilloff and right-hander Jordan Balazovic — both selected in 2016 – and the Twins’ future looks bright as ever.

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  1. Signing third baseman Josh Donaldson

Look, Donaldson hasn’t played a single inning in a Twins uniform yet. But he has the potential to be the free-agent signing that defines the Twins careers of Falvey and Levine. After the Twins’ historic 2019 regular season, they were swept in three games by the New York Yankees in the ALDS. Falvey and Levine vowed to target game-changing pitchers in the offseason. But when Minnesota couldn’t land Gerrit Cole, Zack Wheeler and Madison Bumgarner on the open market, the Twins pivoted to signing one of the game’s best sluggers to a franchise-record four-year deal worth $92 million. While locking down Donaldson is the biggest splash — by far — that the executives have made, this list is driven by results. Hence the No. 4 ranking. But Twins fans certainly hope this will be at the top of the list in a few seasons.

  1. Signing Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco to contract extensions

Kepler and Polanco didn’t have great seasons in 2018. Kepler batted a career-low .224/.319/.408 in 156 games and Polanco missed half of the year due to an 80-game suspension. But Falvey and Levine saw it as an opportunity to buy low and inked both players to five-year contract extensions. The deals were a win for both sides — Polanco and Kepler earned a pay raise along with stability, and the Twins locked down a pair of young position players for the long term on relatively inexpensive deals. To make things even better, Polanco was named to his first career All-Star game in 2019 and Kepler set career highs in batting average (.252), OBP (.336), slugging percentage (.519), homers (36) and RBI (90).

  1. Trading for Jake Odorizzi

Heading into the 2018 offseason, Minnesota needed to improve its starting rotation. Sound familiar? Falvey and Levine sent shortstop prospect Jermaine Palacios to Tampa Bay in exchange for the right-hander Odorizzi, who was under contract through the 2019 season. Over two years with the Twins, Odorizzi posted a 22-17 record, 4.01 ERA and 9.5 K/9 in 62 starts. He accepted a one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer this offseason to stick with the club for one more year. Palacios, meanwhile, struggled to a .210/.275/.266 slash line last season in 74 games for Tampa Bay’s Single-A and Double-A affiliates.

  1. Signing designated hitter Nelson Cruz

On Jan. 2, 2019, Cruz signed a one-year deal with the Twins with a team option for 2020. The 38-year-old had a bigger impact on Minnesota than even Falvey or Levine could have imagined. Cruz was the MVP of the 2019 Twins, leading the team in homers (41), batting average (.311), OBP (.392) and slugging percentage (.639). He also mentored fellow Dominican Republic native Miguel Sano, who put together his most consistent stretch of hitting in the second half of 2019 — .362 OBP and 21 homers in 63 games.