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Ranking the Twins’ pending free agents

Which in-house free agents should the Twins prioritize this off season?

MLB: ALDS-New York Yankees at Minnesota Twins
Jake Odorizzi is a free agent the Twins would love to have back.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 Minnesota Twins were a healthy mix of young, up-and-coming talent, strong role players in their prime, and one grizzled veteran who just so happened to be one of baseball’s best hitters.

Only two position players will be hitting free agency this winter, and while both were Opening Day starters, neither were regular, everyday players after the All-Star Break.

The starting rotation, however, is a different story: four of the Twins five leaders in games started will be out on the open market, which means that difficult decisions will need to be made by Derek Falvey, Thad Levine and the rest of the front office.

Because ranking things is fun, we’re going to rank the seven major league free agents who spent the majority of the season on the Twins’ 25-man roster. This ranking will be from the least important free agent to sign (maybe, just maybe, if he’s still out there on March 1) to the most important (dial that phone on November 1, Mr. Levine).

7. Martin Perez

Okay, so Martin Perez’s is actually under contract for $8 million next year, but carries a $500,000 buyout. I’m not saying that the Twins should buy him out — he was serviceable for stretches during the season, after all — but I’m not saying that they shouldn’t, either.

The arc of Perez’s career with the Twins was basically: confusion and frustration after his signing, growing outrage after he gave up 11 earned runs in 18 23 innings in spring training, and a slow cool-down as Perez went 7-1 with a 2.95 ERA through May 23. In that span, he shut out the Houston Astros over eight innings and the Toronto Blue Jays for seven in back-to-back outings, and the only team to beat him was the Detroit Tigers. Go figure.

Then, the bottom fell out and Perez had a 6.29 ERA over his final 107 13 innings.

All things considered, the Twins will likely bring Perez back. Eight million isn’t crazy for a reliable end-of-rotation starter, and there is some evidence from the end of his time in Texas in 2018 that he could be a decent bullpen arm. There’s no reason to burn $500,000 when the guy might still be able to contribute.

That said, the Twins should absolutely have contingency plans in place for rounding out their rotation that does not include Martin Perez.

6. Jonathan Schoop

Schoop was a nice stop-gap for the Twins this season. After an All-Star campaign for Baltimore in 2017 that saw him triple-slash .293/.338/.503, Schoop had a lost 2018 between the Orioles and Milwaukee Brewers in which he put up a line of just .233/.266/.416.

The Twins decided to bet on a bounce-back and paid him $7.5 million to be their starting second baseman in 2019 after trading Brian Dozier in 2018 and letting his replacement, Logan Forsythe walk in free agency.

As it turned out, Schoop was better than he was in 2018, but didn’t quite sniff the level he was at in 2017. And, when injuries cropped up in other areas on the roster, a fringe prospect named Luis Arraez arrived and was a revelation.

Before long, Arraez was receiving comparisons to Rod Carew and Schoop was out of an everyday job.

At this point, it’s hard to see Arraez as anything other than the second baseman of the future, and that’s to say nothing about the middle infield prospects who are close to The Show. While Nick Gordon may not be able to unseat Arraez, the possibility of Royce Lewis bumping Jorge Polanco to second base remains.

That means that Schoop is unlikely to return in 2020, although he was a savvy signing by the Twins front office and was absolutely a contributor to the success of 2019.

5. Sergio Romo

The Twins acquired Romo from the Miami Marlins a few days before the July Trade Deadline along with pitching prospect with Chris Vallimont in exchange for power-hitting prospect Lewin Diaz.

It was a relatively low cost for a reliable, consistent bullpen option. Romo was among the league leaders in allowing weak contact, and while he doesn’t throw hard anymore and relied almost entirely on inducing pop-ups and slow rollers, he was still effective.

He only made $2.5 million last season and could surely be had for a similar amount in 2020, but there is really no reason for the Twins to prioritize a player who is best used as a sixth- or seventh-inning option.

4. Kyle Gibson

Gibson is the longest-tenured current Twin, so it would absolutely be difficult to see him walk away in free agency.

That said, Gibson took a slight step backwards in 2019 following a surprisingly effective 2018. He reportedly had some health issues that he pitched through for much of the season, however, so if the Twins front office is privy to those details and believes he could get off to a better start in 2020, there’s a chance they bring him back.

In his final year of arbitration, Gibson made $8.125 million. He had an ERA of 4.84 that was inflated with poor outings down the stretch. In reality, he’s a solid No. 4 starter that is probably worth about what he was paid in 2019.

The question is whether or not he has the chance to sign a multi-year deal elsewhere, compared to what the Twins may or may not offer. At the right price, it could make sense to bring Gibson back to shore up the back of the rotation.

3. Jason Castro

Castro signed a three-year deal to be the Twins’ starting catcher prior to the 2017 season. After a solid opening year in Minnesota, Castro went down with a knee injury early in 2018 and essentially lost the entire year.

In 2019, Castro lost his starting role to sudden superstar Mitch Garver, but remained a good secondary option and slashed a solid .254/.354/.497 against right-handed pitching.

Among catchers on the free agent market, only Russell Martin, formerly of the Dodgers, and Tyler Flowers, most recently of the Braves, would rival Castro on the defensive side of the ledger. With the Twins apparently desiring to continue giving Garver regular rest, Castro might be an ideal platoon partner.

There remains a chance that the 32-year-old Castro gets a shot to start with another team, but if not, the Twins would be wise to bring him back as the primary backup to Garver.

2. Michael Pineda

Pineda was a savvy and somewhat speculative signing by the Twins front office two winters ago, as he was paid $2 million in 2018 to rehab from surgery.

But the $8 million he was to be paid for the 2019 season appeared to be well worth it, right up until Pineda was suspended for failing performance-enhancing drug testing.

Over his final 14 starts from June 13 to September 6, Pineda logged an ERA of 2.96 and was the Twins’ best pitcher. He’ll miss roughly the first month of next season as he serves the rest of his suspension, but if he’s willing to give the Twins any kind of a discount on a one or two-year deal, the Twins would be wise to consider bringing him back as their No. 3 or 4 starter.

1. Jake Odorizzi

Odorizzi was easily the Twins’ best pitcher during the first part of the season, but after having an ERA of 1.92 on June 9, his ERA was 4.77 over his last 17 regular season starts to finish at 3.51 over 159 innings for the season.

He made the All-Star team for the first time last year and will be 30 years old by next season. After making $9.5 million last season, he’ll have a real shot at coming close to doubling that this winter.

At the right price, Odorizzi would be a fantastic No. 3 starter on a playoff team. After all, he was the No. 2 starter on a 103-win Twins team this year, but with four open rotation spots it’s fair to assume the Twins will go big game hunting even if they do bring Odorizzi back.

Even though Perez, Gibson, Pineda, and Odorizzi are all listed here, don’t expect all — or even more than two of them — to be back. The Twins front office knows that much needs to be done to improve the pitching staff, and running back the same five starters simply won’t get it done.

The prediction here is that Pineda and Odorizzi are back and that the Twins add at least one big name in free agency. There are internal options to battle for the final spot or two in the rotation, but between Free Agent Acquisition, Jose Berrios, Odorizzi, Pineda, and Brusdar Graterol/Devin Smeltzer/someone else, it could still end up being an improved rotation form what they trotted out there in 2019.