The Minnesota Twins have a sizable chunk of their roster that could be turned over this offseason.
On the position player side, the likes of Nelson Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez, Alex Avila, and Ehire Adrianza are all free agents. Starting pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Rich Hill are going to hit the market, and bullpen pieces Tyler Clippard and Trevor May are also free agents while Sergio Romo has a club option for 2021.
The conversation surrounding which of these free agents are most likely to be back is one that needs to be had, but let’s instead focus on which players that are still under contract (or team control) and may be replaced prior to spring training.
Let’s count backwards, from the third-most-likely to be traded position player to the most likely.
3. Miguel Sano
Miguel Sano was paid only $7 million this year. Next year, his salary jumps to $11 million. In 2022, it drops back down to $9.25 million, and the club has an option for 2023 at $14.25 million.
Sano was once again among the league leaders in all hard-hit categories, including finishing second in average exit velocity, trailing only rookie phenom Fernando Tatis, Jr. He put up a slugging percentage of .478 and an isolated power (ISO) mark of .274, tying with Bryce Harper for No. 21 in the league and better than Mookie Betts and Pete Alonso, among others.
But his on-base percentage plummeted to .278 — three points lower than his mark in the lost 2018 season when he slashed .199/.278/.398 in 299 plate appearances (PAs). He led the league with 90 strikeouts in 205 PAs this year, meaning he struck out in a whopping 43.9 percent of his trips to the plate.
Sano showed skill in transitioning to play first base, and by most accounts was only a slightly below-average fielder. He absolutely embraced the move across the diamond and is athletic enough to be a plus defender in short order. There is no reason to think that moving Sano to first was a mistake.
However, Sano regressed at the plate from his monster second half of the 2019 season. The Twins will live with strikeouts as long as there is also some semblance of on-base ability and adequate home run power.
The Twins could calculate that they’re better served to save the $4 million salary increase that Sano is set to receive to spend in other areas — such as re-signing Cruz — and instead try to move off of Sano for a pair of prospects, or perhaps an MLB-ready rotation piece.
Depending on what happens with Eddie Rosario (spoiler alert: more on him later), the Twins may be looking for a way to get Alex Kirilloff’s bat into the lineup. In 2019, nearly half of Kirilloff’s at-bats for Double-A Pensacola came as a first baseman, and while he can have a bigger impact on the game as a solid corner outfielder, the Twins could certainly give him a shot to win the job in 2021. Brent Rooker has also played some first base in the minors, although he hasn’t appeared in a game over there since 2018. And, of course, there’s also this year’s first-round pick, Aaron Sabato, who could be MLB-ready in the next year or two.
To be clear, it is not likely that the Twins trade Sano. He’s still only 27 years old and his contract isn’t outlandish. He was still a plus offensive player in 2020, all things considered, but the Twins will certainly want more from him at the plate moving forward to justify his extension.
Now, as for the next two players on the list ... let’s just say they’re far more likely to be moved.
2. Mitch Garver
Oh, how quickly things can change.
As recently as late July (less than three months ago, believe it or not), everyone thought the Twins had an absolute bargain in Mitch Garver. To be fair, we all had great reason to think exactly that. Any time players are mentioned in the same category — nay, multiple categories — as Babe Ruth, then we’re all excused for hoping that the Twins had struck gold with the Garvsauce.
Alas, Garver came crashing down to earth with an unsightly .167/.247/.264 line in just 81 plate appearances that were interrupted by a month-long stint on the injured list. Garver actually struck out at an even higher rate than Sano; an almost unimaginable 45.7 percent of Garver’s plate appearances ended in a strikeout.
If Ryan Jeffers had put up disappointing numbers in Garver’s stead during the month of August, we likely wouldn’t be having this conversation. But the Twins’ No. 6 prospect impressed, slashing a solid .273/.355/.436 and playing great defense despite only appearing in 24 games above A-ball prior to this season.
Garver is entering arbitration, and while his disappointing 2020 season will suppress his 2021 salary somewhat, he’s going to start making a lot more money.
Someone out there will believe that Garver can bounce back to his 2019 form. The question is, do the Twins believe it? Which is flukier, Garver’s near-Ruthian line over 359 plate appearances in 2019, or his Denny Hocking-esque (sorry, Denny) line in 81 injury-riddled plate appearances in 2020?
If it’s somewhere in between (the most likely scenario), then it may not make sense to move off of Garver just yet. Jeffers could easily return to Triple-A, where he has yet to play, and the Twins could wait and see what they have in Garver in 2021. Perhaps they bring back Alex Avila as the left-handed backup and part-time platoon option, or perhaps they find another veteran backup to fill the role.
Don’t forget that the Twins’ perception of Jeffers matters, too. Do they think his ceiling is higher than Garver’s? Probably. Do they think his floor is comparable in 2021? That’s also likely. But why rush things?
It seems most likely that the Twins keep Garver for another year and see if he can settle in as an above-average catcher with pop and then consider trading him after the 2021 season after he’s recouped some value.
Then again, all it takes is one team to truly covet Garver, and the Twins could receive a nice haul in a deal.
1. Eddie Rosario
Eddie Rosario made $7.75 million this season and has only one year of arbitration remaining before he hits free agency in the winter of 2021.
He continues to be a solid, if slightly overrated, offensive contributor. Rosario broke his streak of three consecutive years with an OPS over .800 by finishing the shortened campaign with a .792 mark in 2020. He did improve his walk rate by a noticeable margin; entering the season Rosario’s career walk rate was just 4.4 percent, but he walked in a shocking 8.2 percent of his plate appearances this season.
Rosario also continued his strange trend of alternating horrific defensive years with solid ones. He was above-average this year by most measures, and he continues to have one of the better throwing arms among left-fielders league-wide.
But Rosario’s lack of patience and spotty defense could be replaced by one of the Twins’ myriad corner outfield prospects.
The aforementioned Rooker slashed a shocking .316/.381/.579 this year, albeit in only 21 plate appearances. While he certainly didn’t look overwhelmed, it’s a sample size hardly worth mentioning and he wouldn’t be better than Rosario defensively.
Kirilloff is the more likely option and could be the Twins’ long-term solution in left field. Fellow former first-round pick Trevor Larnach is coming, too, although he’s mostly played right field in the minors and is probably more likely to be traded than Kirilloff and maybe even Rooker.
Arriving at the idea of trading Rosario is a combination his pending free agency, spotty defense, and the presence of Kirilloff and Co. nipping at his heels. If the Twins can get any value in return — ideally, pitching, but prospects would be nice, too as the Twins back-fill their system while Kirlloff and others graduate to the majors — then they would be well-served to consider trading Eddie, as difficult as that might be.
At the end of the day, even though Sano and Garver are the third-most and second-most likely trade candidates, respectively, trading either one of them would still come as a surprise. In Rosario’s case, however, it’s probably more likely than not that he’s moved this offseason.
Buckle up. It should be a fun winter.