In other news that you may have somehow missed, the Twins are reportedly still one of only three or four teams in the running to sign former American League MVP and Bringer of Rain, Josh Donaldson.
A marriage between the record-setting Twins and the dangerous Donaldson would be ... smashing, to put things mildly.
Comparing last year’s “regular lineup” to a projected lineup for 2020 proves challenging, given manager Rocco Baldelli’s penchant for tinkering with his starting nine; the Twins only used two lineup cards more than twice. The top six players in those two lineups, which were used seven and six times, respectively, were as follows, pictured along with their individual home run totals.
Max Kepler - 36 HR
Jorge Polanco - 22 HR
Nelson Cruz - 41 HR
Eddie Rosario - 32 HR
C.J. Cron - 25 HR
Marwin Gonzalez - 15 HR
All of those guys except Cron will be back in 2020. Additionally, only one of those six players appeared in more than 137 games: Jorge Polanco, who played in 153 contests.
The other players who combined to make up the bottom-third of the Twins’ most commonly used lineups in 2019 were as follows, in order of dingers swatted over the fence.
Mitch Garver - 31 HR
Jonathan Schoop - 23 HR
Jason Castro - 13 HR
Byron Buxton - 10 HR
Schoop and Castro are gone, having signed with the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Angels, respectively. Garver famously demolished 31 homers while appearing in just 93 games due to a combination of injury and somewhat of a rotation with the now-departed Castro. And Buxton was once again felled by injury midway through the campaign, stepping to the plate only 295 times in 87 games.
If we do a bit of projecting, it’s fair to assume that of the seven above-mentioned guys who are still on the Twins’ roster today, everyone except the 39-year-old Cruz has a real possibility to hit more home runs than they did in 2019. Now, they won’t all hit more, but assuming relative health, some of them certainly will.
Also, did you notice anyone missing? Miguel Sano only appeared in 105 games due to his late start to the season and didn’t even make the above list of 10, and he was third on the team with 34 round-trippers.
Let’s take a stab at a lineup with Donaldson, who hit 37 home runs last year with Atlanta, again with their 2019 numbers.
(There’s probably an extra bench player listed in the below scenario, but remember that the active roster is expanding to 26 players in 2020. Cave would likely be the odd man out due to the positional flexibility of Gonzalez and, to a lesser extent, Astudillo and Adrianza.)
C Mitch Garver (R) - 31 HR
SS Jorge Polanco (S) - 22 HR
DH Nelson Cruz (R) - 41 HR
3B Josh Donaldson (R) - 37 HR
RF Max Kepler (L) - 36 HR
1B Miguel Sano (R) - 34 HR
LF Eddie Rosario (L) - 32 HR
CF Byron Buxton (R) - 10 HR
2B Luis Arraez (L) - 4 HR
UT Marwin Gonzalez - 15 HR
UT Willians Astudillo - 4 HR
C Alex Avila - 9 HR
OF Jake Cave - 8 HR
INF Ehire Adrianza- 5 HR
That lineup is ... stacked. That’s six players who hit over 30 home runs a season ago, and it’s quite possible they’ll all challenge that number again. Polanco and a healthy Buxton would each hit north of 20 dingers, and Gonzalez would have a chance given semi-regular at-bats, too.
The other aspect of this that doesn’t fit the point being made but must be mentioned is that adding the slick-fielding Donaldson would also improve the Twins’ defense immensely.
We don’t have any idea how long the Donaldson process will drag on, with Washington, Atlanta, and possibly the Dodgers all still involved alongside the Twins. But the Twins have the best top-to-bottom lineup of the three teams, and potentially the easiest division with the dreadful Tigers and Royals nowhere near contending status.
If Donaldson chooses the Twins, look for another 300-plus homer season at Target Field. It’s an offense that should carry this team to postseason play once again, regardless of how average their pitching staff appears to be.