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My Offseason Plan for the Twins

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Detailing the moves I think the team should make heading into 2021

Wild Card Round - Houston Astros v Minnesota Twins - Game One Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Twins final payroll for 2020 was estimated to be about $132.8-million, before modifications due to the shortened season. Now, after a season with less games and little in-stadium revenue, franchises league-wide are feeling the pinch. It’s hard to project exactly how teams and their owners will respond and act this winter. The impacts of the pandemic, the coming Collective Bargaining negotiations, and minor league contraction make this an offseason unlike, and more uncertain, than any other. It seems likely there will be widespread budget tightening, a belief supported by the evidence we have gathered from early offseason club decision-making thus far. While the conditions facing the 30 teams are somewhat uniform, I expect teams will handle them differently. For clubs like the Twins, who are clearly in a contention window, ownership might be more willing to continue investing in their on-field product. Twins owner Jim Pohlad was diplomatic in post-season interviews about how he would or would not limit the baseball budget in 2021 and did not seem to indicate any dramatic reductions were coming. Even if ownership doesn’t push for a lower payroll, it seems unlikely Minnesota will go into the 2021 season with another payroll over $130-million.

As many others have detailed in recent weeks, simply “running it back” with the 2020 roster would probably increase the team’s payroll above $150-million. Doing so would mean re-signing Nelson Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez, Jake Odorizzi, Trevor May, and other free agents in addition to accepting the built in salary increases expected from arbitration eligible players like Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton,and Jose Berrios. That’s almost certainly untenable for the franchise (and probably not good from a baseball perspective). So, it’s pretty clear the roster composition is going to change and some familiar faces are going to be on the way out. The club’s decision to decline Sergio Romo’s $5-million 2021 option in lieu of a $250K buyout is an example of being judicious with limited resources.

With that as background, I’m going to lay out my blueprint for the Twins’ offseason. For this exercise I’m going to give myself a payroll constraint of $120-million, which is roughly a ten-percent decrease from last season. No one knows the true limit and perhaps there is some wiggle room above that target for the right situation, but this seems reasonable enough to be realistic and force me to wrestle with some difficult decisions. For simplicity, I’ll forego the trade market in this post and stay focused primarily on the free agent pool.

It’s important to note that I’m not making predictions about what the Twins will do. This is what I would do if I was Derek Falvey and Thad Levine in this environment. I will try to do my best to get inside their heads to inform the moves, sticking true to their philosophies and the kinds of moves they have demonstrated in the past.

Principles

To get inside the bosses’ heads and make this successful within the salary constraints, I’ll guide my decision making with a few enduring principles:

  • Depth is king. One of the hallmarks of the Falvine era has been a relentless commitment to building and maintaining quality roster depth.
  • Prioritize positional flexibility. Another hallmark of this leadership group are players that can adequately play multiple roles and positions. These are important in long seasons to guard against injuries, unexpected performance, and to maximize matchup advantages.
  • Maintain a balance of the near term and the long-term health of the club. Falvey’s stated goal is “to build a sustainable and championship-caliber team and organization.” The championship window is open now and the goal is to capitalize on that while working to keep it open farther into the future.
  • Be patient. Most believe this baseball winter will move very slowly, with teams being content to let the market play out and hope there are bargains to be had closer to the start of the season.

Ok, enough preamble. Let’s dig in.


Post-2020 Free Agents

Nine players from the 2020 roster were scheduled to become free agents. The salaries listed below in this section are their 2020 numbers.

  • RHP - Jake Odorizzi - $17.8M
  • DH - Nelson Cruz - $12.0M
  • UTIL - Marwin Gonzalez - $9.0M
  • RHP - Homer Bailey - $7.0M
  • C - Alex Avila - $4.25M
  • LHP - Rich Hill - $3.0M
  • RHP - Tyler Clippard - $2.75M
  • RHP - Trevor May - $2.205M
  • UTIL - Ehire Adrianza - $1.6M

We also now know we can add Sergio Romo as the tenth player to this list with the Twins declining his $5.0M 2021 option and instead paying him a $250K buyout.

  • RHP - Sergio Romo - $4.75M / $250K 2021 buyout

Total Payroll Cleared: $64,175,000

2021 Guaranteed Contracts

To move on to building the next Twins roster, let’s start with the six players that have guaranteed contracts for 2021:

  • 3B - Josh Donaldson - $21.0M
  • 1B - Miguel Sano - $11.0M
  • RHP - Michael Pineda - $10.0M
  • RF - Max Kepler - $6.5M
  • SS - Jorge Polanco - $4.33M
  • RHP - Kenta Maeda - $3.125M

2021 Total: $55,958,334

There’s not much else to say about this group. All but Pineda are also under contract for 2022. The Twins hold a $14-million club option on Sano for 2023, when Donaldson, Kepler, Polanco, and Maeda will be in the final guaranteed years of their current deals.

2021 Arbitration Eligible Players

MLBTradeRumors has done excellent work over the years building projection models for estimating arbitration salaries. There is extra uncertainty this year though, which the experts there have accounted for by giving three sets of projections based on different assumptions. You can read more about them here.

Heading into the offseason, Minnesota has seven players that are arbitration eligible. For simplicity, I’m going to use an average of the three estimates from MLBTR for the salary numbers listed below.

  • LF - Eddie Rosario - $10.37M
  • RHP - Jose Berrios - $5.87M
  • LHP - Taylor Rogers - $5.66M
  • CF - Byron Buxton - $4.8M
  • RHP - Tyler Duffey - $1.93M
  • C - Mitch Garver - $1.83M
  • RHP - Matt Wisler - $1.33M

Total Arbitration Salaries: $31,800,000

This is to be Eddie Rosario’s last trip through salary arbitration before he is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2021 season. The others, besides Mitch Garver, are scheduled for one more trip through arbitration after the 2021 season before becoming free agents after 2022. Garver will also be eligible for the 2023 season.

The Twins will have decisions to make with this group. Arbitration salaries are not automatic. The club holds the choice to tender a contract to these players, and can choose not to offer a contract instead of going to arbitration.

Pre-Arbitration Eligible Players

For the earlier career / service time players, the 2020 major league minimum salary was just above $563K. That figure is governed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association. Adding to the uncertainty of this offseason is the fact that the major league minimum salary has not yet been specified for 2021, the last year remaining of the current agreement. For simplicity, I’ll set the minimum salary at $575K for 2021. Given the economic environment, a small raise from the minimum like this is probably a reasonably conservative position to take.

This amount would apply to any pre-arbitration player that makes the opening day 26 man roster next spring. The seven names below all spent significant chunks of 2020 with the major league team and seem to have good shots at doing so again in 2021.

  • 2B - Luis Arraez - $575K
  • C - Ryan Jeffers - $575K
  • OF - LaMonte Wade Jr. - $575K
  • OF - Jake Cave - $575K
  • RHP - Jorge Alcala - $575K
  • RHP - Randy Dobnak - $575K
  • LHP - Caleb Thielbar - $575K

Total: $4,600,000

This total could vary depending on the moves I make with the rest of the roster. Budgeting for about seven spots to be covered by pre-arbitration players seems reasonable enough.

With all of that detail as the context, here’s where things stand before I start making decisions:

Before any more decisions are made, you can see that I’ve got just short of $28-million to play with for our offseason moves. With the departing free agents creating holes on the roster, we’ll need to fill gaps at Designated Hitter, Utility player, two regular rotation spots, and some bullpen positions. All of that would need to happen in addition to fortifying roster depth to guard against the inevitable injuries. Beyond the open holes in the roster, I’m also facing the need to improve an offense that was overly dependent on home runs in falling to 18th in runs scored in 2020. A big part of that decline was driven by team-wide struggles against left-handed pitching (81 wRC+, 24th).

This math makes it pretty clear why we’ve seen so much rumbling in the baseball blogworld about what to do with Eddie Rosario and whether to bring back Nelson Cruz or Jake Odorizzi. The numbers get pretty tight pretty quick, and players that command the salaries expected of those three will chew up the team’s flexibility.

In addition to the monetary details, it’s important to carefully manage roster constraints. With the ten free agent players no longer under Minnesota team control and two waiver claim additions of right-hander Ian Gibaut and left-hander Brandon Waddell, the Twins 40-man roster sits at 34 players heading into the free agency period. Managing the roster spots will also be important because I’m anticipating the market to have an unusually high number of arbitration-eligible non-tenders. The non-tender market might present some intriguing bargain shopping opportunities, allowing me to add major league ready talent at a discount. I also need to plan for additions to the 40-man roster of Rule-5 draft eligible prospects that I need to protect.

So, if I were Falvey and Levine, what would my offseason priorities be?


Priority #1: Move on from Eddie Rosario

This is one that might anger some of the nostalgic fans but the reason it’s been so heavily discussed is because it’s obvious. Rosario is what he is at this point. He is a slightly above average offensive left fielder (106 career wRC+) with weak on base skills (.310 career OBP), below average defense (-20.8 runs below average career), and a salary that is escalating. Among the 62 qualified left fielders during Rosario’s career thus far (2015-2020), Rosario ranks 35th in wOBA and wRC+ and 41st in defensive runs above average. As TJ so eloquently described, it’s not that Rosario is a bad player. He’s a perfectly fine player. It’s that his production is obtainable in other ways and likely for a lot less money. For a team with a budget crunch, holes to fill, and multiple highly regarded prospects believed to be capable of playing the same position, it just makes sense to move on and free up the $10-million-plus of salary for other needs.

I’d explore a possible trade for minor leaguers not requiring 40-man roster spots, but I suspect the market will not be clamoring too loudly for Rosario’s services. A trade has been murmured for the past couple of years and I believe the primary reason it hasn’t materialized is the market for him at this price is tepid. Given the financial environment around the game, I’d be shocked if another team decided to make this move. They can see as plainly as we can that the Twins have little leverage in this trade negotiation. If a trade can’t be found I would non-tender Rosario and avoid his projected arbitration salary.

Money cleared: $10,366,667

New Total Payroll Available: About $38-million

40-man roster count: 33

Priority #2: Wait to see what Nelson Cruz’s market will be

Let me make it clear. I’d love to bring Nelson Cruz back. The production, leadership, and veteran presence he has brought the past two seasons cannot be understated. He’s been incredible and has shown few signs of slowing down. But the other needs on the roster necessitate waiting it out and hoping there isn’t a robust market for the soon to be 41 year old, positionless slugger. If I can close out on my other priorities and Cruz is still available later in the offseason, perhaps I can get him on a one-year, incentive laden deal. I don’t want to disrespect him, but there’s just not much historical comparison for his aging curve. I’m trying to extend the team’s competitive window beyond just 2021, which means I’ve got to focus on some other items first. If I can get those other priorities completed and Cruz is still available in January, I would try to get it done. I think I’d have a better chance convincing ownership to extend the budget to bring back a recent fan favorite like Cruz to bolster the 2021 club than I might to bring in another free agent from the outside.

Priority #3: Bolster the depth and flexibility of the infield

With Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza free agents, the roster is now lacking critical flexibility and proven depth on the infield. With Gonzalez’s poor-man’s Ben Zobrist act starting to show signs of decline, re-stocking this hugely valuable role is a critical priority this winter. Beyond the usual need for a generic utility player, I think it is critical that this role be filled by a player (or players) strong enough to hold down a starting position on the infield for a period of weeks or months. Given the injury histories of Josh Donaldson and Luis Arraez, it is imperative that I ensure an infield position does not turn into a black hole if and when a starter goes down with an injury.

Sign 1B/2B/3B DJ LeMahieu (3 years, $42-million)

The 2020 AL MVP Finalist seems likely to attract a crowd in free agency. I don’t feel particularly good about going up against the Yankees or other big spenders on the free agent market. I’m also not thrilled about forfeiting the draft pick that will be attached to LeMahieu for declining the Yankees qualifying offer. But, despite those concerns, and that it may not appear the Twins have an open position on the infield and that there does not seem to be any rumor mill fodder that connects LeMahieu to the Twins, I see him as the perfect addition for this club for a couple of reasons.

First, he’s an average or slightly above average defender at first base, second base, and third base. While he’s probably not an option you feel good about at shortstop, I’d feel very comfortable with LeMahieu taking over any one of those other spots everyday in the event Donaldson, Arraez, or Sano are injured. If all are healthy, I think LeMahieu plays everyday across those three spots, spelling the others depending on matchups and to help keep them fresh and healthy. With LeMahieu in the fold you can pick your spots to protect Sano from right-handed breaking balls (.147 BA, 51.7% whiff rate against breaking balls in 2020), Arraez from tough lefties, or get Donaldson more time in the DH spot to protect his legs.

Second, LeMahieu helps to fill a couple of important skill weaknesses in the current Twins lineup: making contact and producing against left-handed pitching. The Twins offense collectively fell to 19th in strikeout percentage in 2020 (24.4%), after finishing 4th-lowest in 2019 (20.9%). Similarly, the offense fell to 24th from 2nd against left-handed pitching, as measured by wRC+. LeMahieu just posted the lowest strikeout rate of his career in 2020, finishing with the 2nd-lowest rate among qualified hitters at 9.7%. That low strikeout rate is supported by an elite ability to make contact, demonstrated by his 99th percentile Whiff percentage. Against left-handed pitching, LeMahieu is a .325 / .381 / .475 hitter for his career, good for .367 wOBA and 118 wRC+. I also like that LeMahieu does not have pronounced batted ball tendencies. Like Luis Arraez, he’s basically unshiftable.

The predictions for his eventual free agent contract vary considerably. Craig Edwards at Fangraphs estimated 3 years / $31-million. Tim Dierkes at MLBTR thinks 4 years / $68-million. I’m optimistic the market will have concerns about his age and worry he won’t be a good second baseman for the duration of his contract. That’s less of a concern for me because of Arraez and the Twins’ other middle infield prospect depth. I think I can split the difference of the estimates above and get him on a three year deal, for around $40M.

2021 Money Spent: $14,000,000

Total 2021 Payroll Remaining: About $24-million

40-man roster count: 34

Priority #4: Add quality depth with upside to the starting rotation

With Jake Odorizzi and Rich Hill hitting free agency, it seems there are two rotation spots to fill behind Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, and Michael Pineda. Of course, Randy Dobnak, Lewis Thorpe, and Devin Smeltzer are still in the fold and could compete for those spots in Spring Training. The Twins are probably best served if all of them are in swing roles in 2021, which means bringing in some arms from the outside. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that you can never have too many capable (and available) starting pitchers.

Sign RHP Corey Kluber (1 year, $10-million with incentives)

Under Falvey and Levine’s leadership the Twins have shown a willingness to take on some injury risk to add discounted veteran pitching. This strategy continues for me, with former Cleveland ace Corey Kluber. Kluber has only been healthy enough to throw 36.2 innings the past two seasons. He’s missed a lot of time due to a bad-luck forearm fracture that was the result of a line drive in April 2019, an oblique injury suffered while rehabbing from the forearm fracture, and a grade 2 tear of a right shoulder muscle in his only appearance in 2020. While the injuries kept him out of action this season, Kluber has been cleared for a normal offseason heading into 2021. He will be 35 in April. While it might not be wise to count on him for tons of innings at this point in his career, when he was last healthy he finished third in the 2018 AL Cy Young voting with a 20-7, 3.12 FIP campaign that capped off five straight seasons of top 10 Cy Young finishes (including twice winning the award).

I like the idea of a one-year prove-it deal for Kluber where he can demonstrate he can stay healthy, pitch for a contender, and have the bonus of working with Wes Johnson and the Twins’ analytics team. Even at his peak Kluber was more of a command and spin pitcher than a power pitcher, which could make him a pitcher that ages more gracefully than others. MLBTR and Fangraphs agree a one year deal is most likely for Kluber, with the projected rate being around $10-million. To further mitigate the risk, I would try to negotiate a deal in that range that was heavy on availability and performance incentives. If healthy, Kluber’s upside is on par or better than any of this free agent class’ headliners, but for what’s likely to be only a fraction of the price.

Sign RHP Taijuan Walker (2 years, $17-million)

I think 28 year old right-hander Taijuan Walker would make for another interesting project. The former top prospect missed nearly all of 2018 and 2019 when he underwent Tommy John surgery and suffered a shoulder capsule strain. Arizona non-tendered Walker last offseason and he rejoined Seattle for five starts before being traded to Toronto at the deadline earlier this summer. Between Seattle and Toronto Walker finally demonstrated he had returned to health, making 11 starts covering 53.1 innings with a 2.70 ERA and only a .213 batting average against. The below the surface stats aren’t quite as positive, as his FIP was 4.56, the batting average against was aided by a fluky .243 BABIP, and Statcast measurements grade him below average in a number of areas. Nonetheless, it was approximately major league average starting pitching and the Twins could do a lot worse than this to fill out the back end of the rotation. But my interest is more about tapping into unrealized upside. In the big picture, it’s not everyday you can acquire a 28 year old former top prospect for the cost Walker will likely command this winter. His age and pedigree alone suggest there could be more here.

I also have some optimism that a few key adjustments could unlock more from Walker. In 2020, he struggled against left-handed hitters (.370 wOBA allowed), which was a departure from his overall career results. In parts of eight MLB seasons, his platoon splits have been somewhat neutral. The most obvious culprit of his 2020 difficulties appears to be a sudden loss of effectiveness of Walker’s splitter. For right-handed throwers, changeups and splitters are typically useful weapons for neutralizing lefties. Walker’s had been that before his rash of injuries. In 2020, lefties suddenly hit .370 and slugged .630 against his split. Splitters are notorious “feel” pitches and there is hope another offseason away from the surgery will help Walker’s split return to form. If not, he also looks like a prime candidate for a pitch mix adjustment. His curveball was an effective weapon against left-handed batters in 2020 (.167 BA allowed). Emphasizing that offering more could be another part of an adjustment plan and would be a change that fits with the Twins’ track record of tweaking new acquisition’s emphasis on breaking pitches.

MLBTR and Fangraphs agree Walker is likely to command a 2-year deal this winter, which would position him to hit the market again at age 30.

2021 Money Spent: $18,500,000

Total 2021 Payroll Remaining: About $5.5-million

40-man roster count: 36

Priority #5: Reinforce the bullpen

I’m starting to get up against the budget limit, which will preclude making another big move (such as a reunion with Nelson Cruz). With Romo, Tyler Clippard, and Trevor May free agents, there are holes in the bullpen that need to be patched up. I’ll turn my attention there for the remainder of the budget:

Re-sign RHP Tyler Clippard (1 year, $2-million)

The 35-year old Clippard was exactly what the Twins expected in 2020, throwing in 26 games and putting together a 2.77 ERA and 2.65 FIP with a strikeout per inning. Despite being right-handed, Clippard’s calling card is making life very difficult on left-handed batters with his changeups and splitters. He continued that last year in allowing lefties just a .245 OBP and .216 wOBA. The underlying numbers support this level of performance and there’s little reason to doubt he could do it again in 2021. Bringing Clippard back complements a pen that is heavily right handed and buys some time for waiver pickup LHP Brandon Waddell to get settled into Minnesota’s system.

Sign RHP Darren O’Day (1 year, $2.5-million)

With soft-tossing side-slinger Romo departing, enter soft-tossing side-slinger O’Day to take his place, but for about half the cost. Now 38, O’Day was as dominant as ever in 2020, with a 1.10 ERA, 2.76 FIP, and more than 12 strikeouts per nine innings. Of course, with his arm slot and slider, O’Day should be limited to facing only right-handed batters, whom he held to a .208 OBP and .197 wOBA in 2020. O’Day had a $3.5-million 2021 option with Atlanta that was declined earlier this off-season.

2021 Money Spent: $4,500,000

Total 2021 Payroll Remaining: About $1-million

40-man roster count: 38

Priority #6: Commit to the prospect outfielders

You’ve probably noticed that I didn’t add an outfielder to replace Rosario, which means I’m going to fill that internally. While there is just a little bit of money remaining, it will be enough for pre-arbitation players Alex Kiriloff and Brent Rooker. It might make sense to platoon the lefty-swinging Kiriloff and the righty Rooker in left field at first. It’s also likely the Twins would look to bring in veteran outfielders on minor league deals for spring training competition, and I’ll do the same below. Don’t be surprised if a veteran “wins” the starting job out of camp while Kiriloff “works on his defense” for a few weeks in Triple-A. That few weeks is likely to be highly productive from a development standpoint and he’ll be up with the big club for good after that.

2021 Money Spent: About $1.2-million

Total 2021 Payroll Remaining: None

40-man roster count: 38

Remaining Odds and Ends

Rule 5 Protection

With two remaining 40-man roster spots, I need to make some decisions about adding prospects that are eligible for the rule 5 draft. That list includes RHP Jordan Balazovic, SS Wander Javier, 2B Yunior Severino, OF Akil Baddoo, and C Ben Rortvedt, among others. Balazovic is the highest regarded prospect among this group, ranked 4th in the system and 81st in the game by MLBpipeline.com. He’s a no-brainer addition to the roster and would almost certainly be lost in the rule 5 draft if left unprotected. Due to the depth up the middle and in the outfield elsewhere in the farm system, I’ll take the risk of leaving Javier, Severino, and Baddoo off the roster. Rortvedt makes for an interesting choice because he profiles as a sure glove-first backup catcher. With Willians Astudillo being shaky behind the dish, Rortvedt would be a useful insurance policy to have around. Nontheless, I’ll choose to leave him off, as the Twins also did last winter. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the Twins added him this time around.

Part of my thinking for that decision is driven by a want to keep a spot available in anticipation of arbitration-eligible non-tenders later in the offseason. There may be good opportunities to add a player deemed too expensive by another club.

40-man roster count: 39

Minor League Targets

With the roster set, the last item on my list is to add depth options and competition for spring training camp via minor league deals. Here are a few names that I like and would try to bring on: RHP Carl Edwards Jr.; RHP Jimmy Nelson; UTIL Ehire Adrianza; OF Michael A. Taylor; UTIL Brock Holt; C Caleb Joseph; RHP Aaron Sanchez; RHP Zack Littell; RHP Nate Jones.


Results

After my moves, here’s what the Plan A Twins lineup would look like heading into 2021:

C: Mitch Garver - $1.833M

1B: DJ LeMahieu - $14.0M

2B: Luis Arraez - $575K

SS: Jorge Polanco - $4.33M

3B: Josh Donaldson - $21.0M

LF: Alex Kiriloff - $575K

CF: Byron Buxton - $4.8M

RF: Max Kepler - $6.5M

DH: Miguel Sano - $11.0M

OF: Jake Cave - $575K

C: Ryan Jeffers - $575K

OF: Brent Rooker - $575K

UTIL: Nick Gordon - $575K

Total: $66.92M

I still needed a backup infielder capable of playing shortstop and Nick Gordon is already on the 40-man roster. He would be the frontrunner to fill this role heading into spring training, but would have to compete with Adrianza and/or Brock Holt from the minor league side. That’s also to say nothing of top prospect Royce Lewis, who might also force consideration for a 26-man roster spot on the infield.

Of course, other familiar names like Astudillo, Wade Jr., and Travis Blankenhorn remain on the 40 man roster for additional depth. Outfield prospect Gilberto Celestino is too.

As for the pitching staff:

SP1: Kenta Maeda - $3.125M

SP2: Jose Berrios - $5.86M

SP3: Michael Pineda -$10.0M

SP4: Corey Kluber - $10.0M

SP5: Taijuan Walker - $8.5M

RP: Matt Wisler - $1.33M

RP: Jorge Alcala - $575K

RP: Caleb Thielbar - $575K

RP: Cody Stashak - $575K

RP: Tyler Clippard - $2.0M

RP: Tyler Duffey - $1.93M

RP: Darren O’Day - $2.5M

RP: Taylor Rogers - $5.67M

Total: $52.65M

The additions of Kluber and Walker push Randy Dobnak to a spot starter / swing role which is a nice luxury to have. Lewis Thorpe and Devin Smeltzer also remain as length options on the 40-man roster. Gibaut, Waddell, and Edwar Colina would be more traditional pen depth options and prospects Dakota Chalmers, Jhoan Duran, and Balazovic are also on the 40-man.

When it’s all said and done, this plan comes in at $119.57M, leaving a tiny bit of wiggle room for actual results of arbitration or small sweeteners for free agent contracts.


Plan B

Of course, little ever goes perfectly according to plan. With that in mind, I also put some thought into options to pivot to if something above doesn’t turn out.

Sign INF/OF Jurickson Profar (2 years, $12-million)

If LeMahieu’s market takes off and gets into the four-plus year range, I would pivot to the alternative I like best to bolster the infield and utility spots - former #1 prospect and now utility man Jurickson Profar. The soon to be 28-year-old hasn’t reached the heights he was projected, but he’s become a quality multi-positional piece in the 3 seasons since returning from a devastating shoulder injury that cost him 2 full years. A switch hitter, Profar may be the closest analog to Marwin Gonzalez available on the market this winter and he fits what I’m looking for with high-contact rates (13.9% K%, 2020) and the ability to hold his own against left-handers (wRC+ above 107 vs. LHP in each of last 3 seasons). In 2020, Profar logged 202 PAs for San Diego, slashing .278 / .343 / .428 (111 wRC+) while primarily manning 2nd base and Left Field. In years past for Texas and Oakland, Profar has also played significant innings at third base, first base, and shortstop. He doesn’t grade out as an outstanding defender at any spot, but he’s probably passable at all of them.

I think the tension for Profar will be that he may have opportunities for bigger roles with teams that don’t figure to contend in 2021. A team like Detroit may be interested in giving Profar a starting job in hopes that he reaches into some untapped potential with steady at-bats. It may be necessary to spend a little extra, or guarantee two years, to convince Profar to take a utility role with a contender. Since the Twins have a track record of giving significant playing time to their bench players, I can envision Profar playing 3-4 days a week all around the diamond much like Gonzalez did. MLBTR predicts a 1-year, $7-million deal in a starting role. To bring him to Minnesota in a utility role, I’d add a second year for another $5-million.

Re-sign LHP Rich Hill (1 year, $5-million)

If I lost out on Kluber or Walker, I would pivot to another veteran that Twins fans are familiar with. Soon to be 41, Hill is coming off a season that saw him get stronger as it progressed. In total, he worked to a 3.03 ERA and 3.99 FIP, despite command struggles early in the season as he built up from offseason elbow surgery. That build up after surgery is a reason to be optimistic that Hill can sustain or even improve in 2021, despite his age. Hill was on a 1-year, $3-million contract last season and figures to command something similar again this year.

In my plan B, I’d try to play out the rest of the moves the same way - still adding Clippard and O’Day. The difference is, here, I’d still have about $7 to $10-million in payroll room to play with. Which brings me back to Nelson Cruz.

Re-sign Nelson Cruz (1 year, $15-million)

There’s an argument to make that signing Clippard and O’Day should take a back seat to bringing back Nellie. Certainly the extra $4.5-million I allocated to the two pitchers would make a one year deal for Cruz more enticing. The bullpen spots could be filled internally with guys like Gibaut, Waddell, or Colina. Of course, that would also likely mean pushing Stashak and Wisler into higher leverage work late in games. That might work out fine, but I’d certainly feel more comfortable in a pennant race with some extra veteran experience to call on out of the bullpen.

I planted the seed earlier that this could be a scenario where ownership gets implored to stretch the budget. While both the Twins and Cruz have expressed interest in getting back together, Cruz will likely hold firm on receiving fair compensation (as he should). Most projections expect that to be a one year deal around $15-million. If ownership is unwilling to go above $120-million to get us in that range, then I’m going to let Cruz leave in free agency and hope Kiriloff and Rooker are ready to produce. If I can stretch the budget, I’d absolutely bring him back on a one-year deal.


John is a contributor to Twinkie Town with an emphasis on analytics. He is a lifelong Twins fan and former college pitcher.