Coming into the off-season, there were relatively few areas of focus for the front office: finding a starting pitcher, and finding an outfielder. The Twins have addressed these needs, but it seems like a lot of our early-winter guess work missed the mark.
To different amounts we spoke about Dexter Fowler, Nori Aoki, and Colby Rasmus over the last couple of months. We considered Aoki and Rasmus to be Minnesota's two top targets on the free agent market as far as outfielders were concerned, but bringing in Torii Hunter put an end to any Aoki speculation and the Twins stated on more than one occasion that they didn't have interest in Rasmus - even if Rasmus was looking for a one-year contract. Fowler, meanwhile, was one of my early-season pet projects. In the SB Nation off-season winter simulation, I traded for Fowler (as my starting left fielder and leadoff hitter) and signed Rasmus (to start in center field) to re-make the Twins outfield.
Now that all three are off the market, I thought I would re-visit each player and consider whether Minnesota could have considered acquiring any of them for the price they actually brought.
I've enjoyed watching the Astros work this winter. It still seems like they won't get to .500, but they'll be a lot more fun to watch and a number of their future cornerstones are stepping into place. Their outfield will now include Rasmus, slugger George Springer, and 24-year old Jake Marisnick, but they dealt Fowler - who has just one year remaining before he hits free agency.
In return for Fowler, the Cubs sent infielder Luis Valbuena and right-handed pitcher Dan Straily. For a similar cost, would it have made sense for the Twins to send a similar package to Houston in order to net Fowler?
Infielder Luis Valbuena
Profile: Third baseman with some power, below average contact skills, and a mediocre walk rate
Match: Trevor Plouffe
This is a look at both players in 2014. Valbuena has historically been a better fielder and might be a little more versatile, in that you'd rather play him at second base than Plouffe for example, but both are starting third basemen. Valbuena's offense (116 wRC+) was slightly better than Plouffe's (112), but Plouffe's improved defense gives him an edge on overall value: 3.5fWAR to 2.7 fWAR.
Right-handed pitcher Dan Straily
Profile: Former Top 100 prospect who can miss bats but has some control issues
Match: Trevor May
Straily has a little more MLB experience, having made 27 starts for Oakland in 2013, but this comparison is still strong. Both of these pitchers have upside, and they both come with a certain measure of warranted caution.
Should the Twins have made the same trade if the opportunity was there?
It's an affordable enough ask, for a team that can compete in the short-term. The Cubs have a decent chance at doing exactly that in 2015. By comparison, trading Plouffe would either leave the Twins scrambling for a third baseman (Eduardo Nunez and Eduardo Escobar aren't a great pairing for third base) or, even worse, would tempt them into rushing Miguel Sano. There's depth at starting pitching, which could make losing May more palatable, but would losing his potential future value be worth the extra two wins or so that Fowler would give the Twins in one year?
Chicago, on the other hand, should be handing the third base job to Kris Bryant, and the addition of Jon Lester to their rotation helps make Straily expendable. While I consider it a nice deal for the Cubs and Astros, I don't think it would have made a good deal of sense for the Twins.
After a relatively quiet winter for Aoki, who hit .285/.349/.360 in 2014 with good defense (and who is a .287/.353/.387 hitter in three MLB seasons), it was surprising to see him walk away with such a team-friendly contract. It's in the extreme, guaranteeing him just $4.7 million in 2015 ($4 million base salary with a $700,000 buyout of his 2016 option). Incentives can boost that value, and that second year option is worth $5.5 million. He gives the Giants three fast, athletic outfielders who can hit a little, too.
Should the Twins have signed Aoki if the offer was there?
Assuming that Minnesota could have snagged Aoki on the same deal early enough in the off-season to prevent them from signing Torii Hunter is asking an awful lot, but assuming that something even in the vicinity of the real-life contract could have been agreed upon...then yes. For the love of all that is good and holy, in the name of the gods of baseball, yes, the Twins should absolutely have tried this.
Aoki may have still required moving Oswaldo Arcia to left field, but he also would have given Minnesota a decent leadoff hitter. As good as Danny Santana was in 2014, his success came in a small sample size and his minor league track record indicates he won't hit anything like an All-Star.
Rasmus joins Evan Gattis as a pair of hitters who will step into the middle of Houston's batting order, along with Chris Carter and George Springer. It's been public knowledge for a while that Rasmus was looking for a one-year contract in order to rebuild his value, and for $8 million he was apparently willing to play for the Astros. He may start in center, although the aforementioned Marisnick would seem like the smart money for that gig - at least from an outsider's perspective. That would put Rasmus in a corner opposite Springer.
Should the Twins have signed Rasmus if the offer was there?
As things sit right now, absolutely. I'd have been all about giving Rasmus an opportunity to rebuild his value by giving him a shot at the starting job in center field. Whether it's because Rasmus is known to have some personality issues (unlikely) or because the Twins are committed to giving Aaron Hicks the time he needs to develop for the Major League team (more likely), it was always apparent from the outset that Minnesota's interest was all but non-existent.
In Minnesota's lineup, Rasmus would fit in with Hunter as complementary offensive players who could hit just behind the middle of the order. The off-set is that Rasmus isn't a good defensive center fielder. He'd be passable, but in between Arcia and Hunter I've been quite vocal about the team's need for an elite defender, and that's not who Rasmus is.
Now, if the Twins had signed Rasmus AND traded for Peter Bourjos? Well, then we'd be all set. Obviously. (Troll'd.)