The Minnesota Twins signed two-time All-Star and all-or-nothing slugger Joey Gallo on Friday.
Clearly, there will be a trickle-down effect on the Twins’ current roster, but which players will be most impacted, finding themselves in a new role — or perhaps, even a new city — by the time the regular season kicks off on March 30?
1. Max Kepler
It was only a week ago that yours truly made the case for hanging onto Max Kepler for the time being in hopes of a bounceback and a potential increase in trade value. He is, after all, still a modestly positive contributor on a reasonable contract.
But for that same reason, if the Twins can upgrade the position and deal from a position of strength and relative depth (corner outfield) in order to buoy the depth in another place (pitching, mostly), then that potentially makes even more sense.
Friday’s signing of Gallo signals that the Twins are confident they will receive a plus return in any Kepler trade. With seems to be a given that Maximilian will be on the move, with Gallo, Trevor Larnach, and Alex Kirilloff all in the mix as full-time players and Kyle Garlick as a strong platoon option. Yes, there are varying injury concerns with all of the incumbents, but there’s still a great deal of depth. And don’t forget about Matt Wallner as another up-and-coming option and Nick Gordon as a part-time option in the outfield.
In short, Kepler will almost certainly be traded.
2. Luis Arraez
Luis Arraez had a phenomenal season, winning the batting title and the Silver Slugger at the utility spot. He ended up starting at designated hitter 34 times, primarily due to a combination of nagging injuries and a lack of more of a “permanent” DH solution for Rocco Baldelli. (In 2021 and prior, Arraez hardly ever started at DH because of the presence of Nelson Cruz.)
Arraez started 60 games at first base, ultimately becoming a solid fielder at the position. But the addition of Gallo gives the Twins another option in left field, pushing Kirilloff to more innings at first base. Gallo himself also gives the Twins another option at first base; even though he hasn’t played there regularly since 2018, Aaron Gleeman mentions that the Twins are considering the option as part of Gallo’s impressive flexibility as a defender (subscription required). In either scenario, it makes it that much more likely that Arraez becomes the regular DH. It should help keep him healthier, and having Gallo in the outfield and Kirilloff (or Arraez) at first improves the Twins’ defense overall.
There’s also the possibility that Arraez is traded. He’s been floated as a trade candidate in the media more frequently after the Twins failed to re-sign Carlos Correa, mostly given to Arraez’s lack of a defensive home.
The thought here is that Arraez’s 130 OPS+ plays just fine at DH, and he’s a solid option at first base if/when Kirilloff is injured. Additionally, Arraez’s contact skills are that much more important when adding the league’s most strikeout-prone player to the lineup in Gallo.
277 major-league hitters had at least 300 plate appearances last season.— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) December 16, 2022
Highest strikeout rate: Joey Gallo, 39.8%
Lowest strikeout rate: Luis Arraez, 7.1%
Arraez struck out just 43 times all season, in 144 games.
Gallo struck out 44 times during a 29-game span in May/June.
Arraez is second on this list because his role is becoming more clear and there’s at least a possibility he’s traded as part of the trickle-down. Odds are probably still best that he’s the Opening Day designated hitter, but anything could happen.
3. Alex Kirilloff
This move would also seem to give credence to the idea that the Twins envision Kirilloff as a full-time first baseman moving forward.
Kirilloff was going to have a role on the team regardless, but Gallo is going to play a lot more corner outfield than he is first base. This just gives the former first-rounder more of a defined role.
4. Trevor Larnach/Matt Wallner
One of Larnach and Wallner was always likely to be on the Opening Day roster, and one was going to begin the year in Triple-A St. Paul. With the addition of Gallo, this is a virtual certainty.
There was a chance the Twins could have neglected to spend money in the corner outfield spots and instead rolled out young, cheap, high-upside talent in some combination of Kirilloff/Larnach/Wallner plus Garlick/Gordon. This surely would have been the case if the Twins had succeeded in re-signing Correa, given that they’d already given a three-year, $30 million deal to Christian Vázquez to be the starting catcher.
By giving Gallo $11 million, they’ve signaled that he will start in the outfield. The Twins will eventually add a right-handed option, as Garlick is the only one of the bunch that doesn’t swing from the left side of the plate. There’s only room for so many lefthanded corner outfielders, after all, and Wallner and Larnach have the least positional flexibility of the group.
At least one will start the season in Triple-A, and depending on if the Twins sign a righthanded option, it’s possible that both of them will be in St. Paul on March 30th.
The Twins have more moves to make. Shortstop and starting pitching are certainly the highest on the list, but don’t forget just how much Derek Falvey and Thad Levine enjoy being outside-the-box thinkers when it comes to offseason roster-building.