As always, things will change for the Minnesota Twins this winter. Players will leave, new players will come, and others will be promoted. Here is an early look at what the needs this year are and aren’t.
Things that are needs
Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza are both free agents. At least one of them won’t be back, as neither will be cheap to retain. Marwin will be the more expensive of the two, and his skill set could be redundant in 2021. The Twins have a plethora of corner outfielders on the cusp of a major league career, meaning an injury or trade of Rosario or Kepler (or Buxton, if Kepler shifts to center) is time for Alex Kirilloff, Brent Rooker, or even Trevor Larnach. Jake Cave is still around, and on a pre-arbitration salary for days off or short-term issues. The other role that Gonzalez filled with the Twins was basically a back-up corner infielder. Given both Donaldson and Sano have seen serious durability issues, a good back up there is something important. But the Twins could easily find a capable player, that swings a bigger stick, and costs less than Gonzalez, so its hard to see him coming back.
Its a bit more likely that Ehire Adrianza comes back, given he will likely cost less, and his skill set fits better—he’s the better middle infielder than Gonzalez, and can also play third, first, and in a pinch, left field. That being said, the Twins could find a cheaper option here too. One option is Nick Gordon. He needs to prove it, and has never done so yet. Travis Blankenhorn made one appearance for the 2020 Twins. He’s also played second, shortstop, third, and left field in the minors, and could profile well as a utility player for the next few years.
There is also the waiver wire, where the Twins picked up Ildemaro Vargas this season, and in the past picked up Adrianza and many other solid options. Finally, there are likely cheaper free agents than Gonzalez (likely to ask for a number approaching 10 million per year) and Adrianza (likely looking for two million per year or more.) Overall, I would say this is not the biggest position on the team, but the biggest need the team should address this winter.
It seems odd that the Twins would sign an external player for their 2021 DH, although we would have said the same thing a couple years ago (for different reasons.) In all likelyhood, one of two outcomes occur. Either the Twins reach an agreement to retain Nelson Cruz, or they roll with one-or-more of their internal options. Those options include Josh Donaldson or Miguel Sano (if the team chooses to sign another player for their defensive position,) Alex Kirilloff, or Brent Rooker; or Eddie Rosario (if Kirilloff or Rooker supplant him in the field.)
Since Cruz is reportedly looking for a two-year deal, I think the Twins should jump on that. Given that all reports seem to say that he enjoyed his time in Minnesota, and he’s clearly been a great presence in the clubhouse. Some of those things cannot be assigned a dollar figure, but his performance alone is worth signing him to a deal that is very, very similar to the one which is ending—and I bet he’d jump on it too. As a reminder, he made 14 million in 2019, and was on a team option for an additional 12 million in 2020. Even if you have to guarantee both years, it wouldn’t limit the team long-term.
Either way, the Twins certainly could find another external option, but it seems unlikely and unnecessary.
The 2020 Twins, and to a lesser extent the 2019 Twins, could consider their bullpen a strength, playoff meltdowns excluded. Still, there will be some turnover this winter. Trevor May and Tyler Clippard are both free agents, May for the first time. He’s in line to get a pretty nice paycheck somewhere, and quite possibly a closing role. I wouldn’t say he’s gone for sure, if he really liked it in Minnesota, but other teams likely have a leg up on signing him. Sergio Romo has a team option, for 5 million. If I were the Twins, I’d exercise that option, but if they decline to, the buyout is only $250,000. Cheaper options can certainly be found.
The Twins also have some solid internal options for the pen, including Jorge Alcala. Still, if the players listed above all leave, they would be likely to add a veteran reliever or two. What they are unlikely to do is sign a high-dollar “proven closer” type. Taylor Rogers had a bad season, but publicly still seems to have the confidence of the team. Tyler Duffey is a very good option for the other highest-leverage role. Matt Wisler and Caleb Thielbar will both likely be back as well—and those two demonstrate the more likely ways the Twins will acquire new relievers from outside the organization, coming in via the waiver wire and a minor-league contract respectively.
The Twins will have new relievers in the bullpen for 2021, its just a matter of how many, and where they come from.
Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, and Michael Pineda make a pretty formidable top-three in a rotation. Its not 2016 Cleveland rotation, but its certainly solid. The Twins will need to fill in the final two spots, plus have some depth, because teams always use 7-10 starters at minimum in baseball these days.
Jake Odorizzi made 17.6 million dollars to play very little baseball in 2020, as he was largely unlucky and suffered freaky injuries. Fortunately, most of those aren’t the kind with long-term health implications. He seems to have liked Minnesota quite a bit, and would likely be amenable to returning. The question will be cost—had he repeated his 2019 career year, he’d be in line for a huge payday, but 2020 was an utterly lost year. If he is willing to sign for a reasonable deal — something in the range of three years and 45 (or less) million, I’d jump on it, but would the Twins?
The other player to do very little this season due to injury was Rich Hill. He also may be willing to come back on a prove-it deal, but age and injury history makes this a riskier proposition.
Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer, and Lewis Thorpe are all still internal options. Dobnak saw a sophomore slump as the league figured him out, but was in the Rookie of the Year and even Cy Young conversation for awhile. He certainly deserves and will get another shot. Smeltzer has been utilized, and is perhaps best viewed as a swingman, spot starter, and rider-of-the-triple-A-shuttle. Thorpe had a no-good-very-bad sort of year, starting way back in Spring Training 1.0, but is still young and a prospect of some note, so could get another opportunity.
That being said, the Twins will still likely add a free agent starter or two. While many fans want them to sign Trevor Bauer, or someone in the top tiers of free agency, I find that unlikely. I think its much more likely they make a move similar to signing Homer Bailey for the 2020 season.
Things that aren’t needs
Oh boy is this not a need. In fact, the Twins could even move an outfielder to shore up one of their weaker areas. The most commonly discussed idea is trading Eddie Rosario, or non-tendering him, as he is projected to be a bit expensive, and is being pushed by prospects. If there are any two players that might make each other redundant, in my opinion, its actually Cruz and Rosario. Both, however, are leaders in the clubhouse, and bring certain intangible skills that add to their value.
Behind the stud outfield of Rosario, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler, Jake Cave is a perfect fourth outfielder. Cave can play all three outfield positions at a reasonable level, acquits himself well with his bat, and is still cheap. Its less likely the team moves on from him, and more likely they keep the prospects playing everyday in the minors if they aren’t playing everyday in the majors.
Those prospects are looking good though. Brent Rooker isn’t quite a butcher in the outfield corners, but he’s certainly a bat-first guy. He hit well in a cup of coffee before suffering a season-ending broken wrist. Alex Kirilloff had an even smaller sample size, debuting in the ill-fated playoffs, but spent the season impressing people at the Saint Paul alternate site. Either guy could be the everyday left fielder of the future for the Twins. The future could be as soon as 2021 if Rosario is traded, or if Cruz does not return and Rosario moves to DH. Trevor Larnach is not far behind them. LaMonte Wade Jr is still in the conversation, as well, although has likely been passed by the others.
Outfield depth is once again a strength for the team, and they won’t be looking to add any—if anything, there is a bit of a roster crunch coming.
From left-to-right, the Twins return Josh Donaldson, Jorge Polanco, Luis Arraez, and Miguel Sano, and likely won’t be looking to upgrade any of those positions in the short term. Donaldson signed a massive free agent contract, and the other three are all making very team friendly amounts of money. Royce Lewis awaits in the wings to pass Polanco or Arraez, but that is not likely to happen going into the 2021 season. Donaldson has had a history of injury issues, but that’s why a good utility guy is a priority—but a starter is not.
While I believe re-signing Nelson Cruz is a priority, if he or the team decide its time to move on, signing another DH is an incredibly low priority. The Twins plenty of options to give those at-bats to. Eddie Rosario or Jorge Polanco could find themselves in that role primarily, with a prospect promoted to play the field. Brent Rooker, Alex Kirilloff, Travis Blankenhorn, and other prospects need to get some experience as well.
The Twins also have the option to be flexible with their DH, and use it give guys partial days off. Josh Donaldson and Byron Buxton both seem to benefit from days off here-and-there, and DH-ing them allows the team to keep their bats in the line up, while giving them some time off of fielding. Miguel Sano could also move to a DH role, if the team sees an opportunity to upgrade at first base, but Sano seemed to transition into his new position fairly well.
Even with Alex Avila being an impending free agent, the Twins don’t need to sign a catcher.
Despite Mitch Garver’s offensive struggles in 2020, you can’t write him off. Even if 2019 is his career year, a catcher of his defensive caliber is still a very valuable player—after all, Drew Butera still has a job. The emergence of Ryan Jeffers provides the Twins a solid tandem of backstops. Willians Astudillo is still around, and his versatility makes him a fantastic bench piece, but more importantly, he proved to be a serviceable third catcher for the short half of a platoon if someone is injured. The Twins also have Ben Rortvedt coming through the pipeline. He was passed by Jeffers as a prospect, but with some Double-A experience already, helps preclude the necessity to add a catcher for even emergency situations.
The only way that catcher becomes a need is if the Twins find a trade partner for Garver, if the Twins truly believe he’ll never be better than he was in 2020, or if they (for some odd reason) decide to make Garver or Jeffers their full time DH. I think the first scenario is most likely, but still highly unlikely. The other two are so improbably they probably didn’t need to be mentioned.
Overall, the Twins are in a good place. They have a strong farm system that is about to graduate some good players to the majors, and the team can return all eight defensive positions if they choose to. They could move a strength-for-weakness to create from for those prospects, as well though. They are also returning the bulk of a strong pitching staff, with three good starters and the framework a good bullpen locked in place. After several splashy moves last winter, the Twins don’t need to do so this season. A couple of solid role-players are all they really need. A utility guy or two, a couple decent relievers, and a back-end starter would reload this team to the point that they can once again be a competitive squad. Most of the internal free agents are luxuries more than necessities, but the Twins could easily afford those luxuries. Even as payrolls around the league contract, the Twins don’t need to spend big this winter.