With Spring Training kicking into full motion, I thought it would be fun to take an a-historical look back on this year’s offseason.
It was a fairly historic offseason in 2018-2019, as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado hit free agency with... nothing much to show for it so far. As of this writing the two superstars are still unsigned.
But what if the Twins had been the team to pull the trigger and sign that hefty check? This will be part one of a three part short-series, focusing on the what-ifs if the Twins had signed (or end up signing) Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, or Dallas Keuchel.
Keep in mind that these articles will have a set of ground rules. Personally, I absolutely hate unrealistic transaction threads, whether they be from beat writers, bloggers, or fans. So while I will delve into fantasy in these posts to analyse how the offseason would have gone if the team were to sign a big fish, I’m not going to be making major additions beyond those and the additions that happened in reality. My fake timeline Twins will not sign Harper and then trade Nick Gordon and Stephen Gonsalves for Gerrit Cole or any other stupid and unrealistic things like that. I will not have the team signing both Machado or Harper, or either of those players and Keuchel. Instead, the Twins will have essentially the same offseason except for one flashy signing, with the $130 million payroll from last year being a loose limit since that is what Twins twitter has been clamoring for the Twins to get back to this year.
For ease of writing, I will outline two fake timelines: one where the Twins make their splash right away, and one where we make a final push in spring training. This will allow us to analyze how the signing would have changed our offseason, and also how our current roster would change if we we someone found ourselves in the running tomorrow. So here we go!
November 3rd, 2018: Twins sign OF Bryce Harper to 10-year, $325 Million contract
I’m not sure whether it came from a validated report or a well sourced rumor, but we more or less know the Nationals offered Harper 10 years and somewhere between $300-310 million towards the end of the regular season/early offseason, which is in line with what Harper is said to be asking of teams. To sign Harper, the Twins would have to go a bit north of that amount, probably shifting a decent amount to signing bonuses that would hit before the current CBA is up and we are thrown into another strike.
I picked $325 million because it is a round number that adds a good chunk of change over the National’s offer at the same term. Personally, if I were really the GM of the Twins I would hand out this contract to Harper in a heartbeat, but they don’t pay me to make the decisions...or at all.
Additional Moves Made
The Twins will still sign 2B Jonathan Schoop for roughly $7.5 million, since the team is in desperate need of a second baseman.
We still sign Nelson Cruz to a 2-year deal, with the same salary numbers, to DH and offer a reliable right-handed power bat.
We still sign Blake Parker and Martin Perez as low-risk moves to add to our pitching.
The Twins still sign Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler to 5 year extensions.
Real Moves that Change
The Twins do not pick up CJ Cron on waivers, and do not sign him to a one year deal for 2019.
Twins do not sign Lucas Duda to a minor league contract.
Twins Opening Day Lineup
- Jorge Polanco - (S) - SS
- Bryce Harper - (L) - RF
- Nelson Cruz - (R) - DH
- Miguel Sano - (R) - 3B
- Eddie Rosario - (L) - LF
- Jonathon Schoop - (R) -2B
- Max Kepler - (L) - 1B
- Byron Buxton - (R) - CF
- Jason Castro - (L) -C
Twins Opening Day Bench
Mitch Garver, (R), C/1B
Ehire Adrianza, (S), SS/IF
Jake Cave, (L), OF
Willians Astudillo, (R), C/3B
Signing Bryce Harper gives the Twins a legitimate number two hitter in an era when the best batter on the team bats second. Harper has his own power to knock in Polanco but also has phenomenal on-base skills to help set up the powerful lineup of Cruz-Sano-Rosario-Schoop hitting behind him. This lineup has a great left-right balance (although it may be lefty heavy if Sano/Buxton dont’t rebound) with incredible amounts of power.
Max Kepler is the man on the move from a crowded outfield and he will primarily handle the work at first base, a position he played well in the minors. His range at first will be worthwhile and he has all of the footwork needed to be a Gold Glove Caliber first basemen.
Fear not, Kepler’s outstanding outfield defense will still be utilized on occasion— primarily when giving a starting outfielder a day off or when a tough right handed pitcher forces Buxton out of the lineup. Having a third catcher in Astudillo on the bench allows Mitch Garver to play first base when the Twins want Kepler in the outfield and Sano still at third base. Likewise Adrianza/Astudillo can play third to send Sano to first and Kepler into the outfield.
Signing Harper gives the Twins a massive upgrade on offense, even if Kepler’s 2016-2018 stats would make him a mediocre first baseman offensively. If Kepler’s bat breaks out the way the Twins hope in our real timeline, this becomes a moot point.
Signing Kepler to his real life extension is something I’ve grappled with in this scenario. Ultimately I still think you do it. If Kepler’s bat improves, you have a legitimate first baseman who is also insurance in centerfield if Buxton can’t get it together. If Buxton does reach some of his potential as a defense-first centerfielder then Kepler can stay at first for the time being. Down the road, if Alex Kiriloff, Brent Rooker, Trevor Larnach, or Luke Raley hit their potential—or Royce Lewis needs to move to the outfield—you can trade Eddie Rosario for prospects to replenish the farm system, with the flexibility of keeping Kepler at first or moving him back to the outfield.
Of all the big splash signings the Twins could have made this offseason, I probably like signing Harper the best, because it provides lineup balance as well as useful redundancy in terms of depth by having Kepler act in a Cody Bellinger type every-day utility player role.
The contract math adds up surprisingly well. The Twins are believed to be at about $106 million this year after all of our offseason signings and the extensions to Kepler and Polanco. About $5 million of that is tied up in CJ Cron, so if you subtract that from Harper’’s $32.5 million (or even if you front load a bit and give him $35 million this year), the Twins are still right around $135 million for their opening day payroll. Not shabby.
March 1st, 2019: Twins sign Bryce Harper to 10-year, $325 million contract
The Twins could still pony up the cash and sign Bryce Harper, again with the idea that we have to overpay a little to get him come play in the frigid North.
Signing Harper now would create a little bit of redundancy (the bad kind) for the current rost. Kepler would still be on the move to first base. Even in the extreme (and unrealistic) scenario of moving Eddie Rosario to third base and Sano to first, the signings of CJ Cron and Lucas Duda likely go out the window.
The great part of having Kepler as your “everyday” first baseman is that he can still play about 40-50 games in the outfield this year, while giving those starts at first to a combination of Sano and Garver. Would you keep Cron on the bench for those 40 starts? probably not, so that signing ends up being a bit of a waste. He got to us on waivers so you likely get nothing for him in a trade which isn’t too much of a loss, all things considered, but $5 million is $5 million.
Honestly, signing Bryce Harper makes too much sense for the Twins. It makes the Twins significantly better, with one of the best offenses in the American League even if Buxton, Sano, and Schoop fail to regain form.
So why haven’t we pulled the trigger? Before you start the “TEH POHLADS BE SO CHEAPZ” rants you need to remember that the money isn’t even half of it. I think it simply boils down to what Harper wants.
Harper has been in the baseball spotlight since he was 16 years old on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He played as a 19 year old in a major East Coast market, and won an MVP award in front of a large market and media base. Add in the fact that he was born and raised in the desert of Las Vegas, it would take a lot more that the 10-year, $325 million deal I used in this exercise to actually get Harper to come here, and Derek Falvey and Thad Levine know that.
I’m sure Falvey and Levine have written out the lineup the way I have above. I’m sure they have talked internally about it. I’m also sure they asked Scott Boras a simple question at some point this offseason “Does Bryce have any interest in coming to us” and Boras simply responded “no.” Don’t worry, our front office assuredly did their due diligence and rebutted by asking, “what sort of figure would change his mind,” to which Boras eyes lit up, “$400 million over ten years” and our front office staff promptly said thanks and walked away.
I legitimately believe that the only way for the Twins to sign Harper would be to offer him $400 million over ten years. Seriously. Even offering him $399 million a year wouldn’t sway him over the offer $300-310 million deal he got from the Nationals. The legacy of being the first $400 million free agent is probably only nugget that could bring Harper to the Twins. And I don’t offer that contract as a member of our front office. Neither does anyone else, leading us to the off season as it played out in real life.
That is all for now, but we will soon be back with our next Twins Offseason What If: Manny Machado!