With the AL Central remaining in disarray, the Twins will enter 2024 as the de facto super favorites to win the division, but with concerns over TV revenue and recent record setting payroll trends, the ownership will likely be focused on reigning it in where possible, but they’ll stick to their guns on starting pitching leading the way. The Twins’ pitching prospect picture is also uninspiring to say the least so re-stocking the farm is a priority, and clearing payroll will also mean clearing plate production and depth so it can't be too drastic.
Issue #1 - Starting Pitching Rotation
After watching Yu Darvish sign elsewhere due to a reluctance to dole out 5 years, more aggressive ownership and a picture of how top starting pitching turns the tide in the postseason, the Pohlad family give the green light to more than 4 years and the Twins land Blake Snell to a 5 year, $126MM deal after clearing payroll space. Bleacher Report recently had him at 5yrs $115MM. Spotrac has Blake Snell at 5yrs $117.5MM, Athletic has Blake Snell at 5yrs $122MM, but I think it’s going to take a tick more because of just how good Snell was this past year. Snell shares the same reliability concern as Gray, but he’s younger and arguably better, though Snell does struggle with the free pass a bit. Snell fits the strikeout favorite mold of the Twins front office. Without Maeda, things get more stressful for the Twins in starting pitching depth so look for an offseason MiLB signing like Chris Flexen or a return of Dallas Keuchel, but the Twins aren’t going to push Ober out of the rotation to start 2024.
Issue #2 - Backup for Byron Buxton
Knowing full well that Byron Buxton cannot be counted on for more than 80 games in the outfield, the Twins absolutely need a potential every day center fielder and there’s precious little in the way of high value prospects in the Twins’ system after years of bolstering the rotation through prospect attrition. The Twins can't afford to throw multi-year 8 figure deals around so the Twins bite on Jarren Duran from the Red Sox. Duran doesn’t come cheap for the Twins and it costs them 2 MLB caliber players in Polanco and Larnach. This is viewed as an extremely lopsided trade by Baseballtradevalues (in Favor of Twins 35:12). Still, I think Polanco’s 2025 team option is substantially under-valued and Duran’s projected value is spuriously high because of a .381 BABIP inflating his projected value. Boston desperately needs a quality 2B and their ownership is not okay with missing the playoffs. They’ll bite on the highly regarded Polanco while having the expectation the lefty Trevor Larnach’s bat will play up in Fenway. As a bonus, Larnach gives Boston inexpensive pop and depth to replace the OF opening created by Duran’s departure. Jarren Duran was listed as Boston’s #4 prospect in 2022 before his a26 triple slash of .295/.346/.482 wRC+ 120, but as I noted, it came with a probably unsustainable .381 BABIP and a poor 6.6% vs. 24.9% BB/K rates. With similar metrics and a .302 BABIP in 2022, Duran’s triple slash was a lot uglier, but that was in a small number of plate appearances and Duran has converted his grounders into line drives effectively in 2023. Duran does bring elite speed to the table so even if his bat regresses, he’d be more like Michael A. Taylor than Nick Gordon or Gilberto Celestino. For sweetening the deal with Larnach, the Twins get back 40 man (A+) MiLB Luis Perales who will be 21 next season. Perales is a 4 pitch SP prospect with a very highly acclaimed fastball, a plus slurve, but plenty of work to do on his other stuff. He’s also got the familiar control issues which plague the Twins pitching prospects. He's a bullpen candidate if his cutter and changeup don’t pan out, but he comes with a very high upside for the cost.
Issue #3 - Re-Stock the pitching pipeline
Max Kepler is a fan favorite, and he was a huge contributor to the 2023 playoff run with a near MVP-like .306/.377/.549 OPS .926 wRC+ 154 stat line from July 14th on. Kepler demonstrated all the things the Twins fans hoped he’d be after his breakout 2019, but the first half of his season was brutal and 2019 was a long time ago in the baseball world. The Twins don’t trust Kepler in CF anymore so he’s not a valid backup for Buxton, and now that Kepler’s value is at its highest, it’s time to bring back some prospects while creating some payroll space to sign Snell. It’ll still leave a bit of a hole in the lineup the Twins will need to fill, but I’ll cover that next. Kepler is dealt to the Mets, who will be unwilling to commit to a true rebuild, to solidify their outfield with the return being SP prospects Blade Tidwell and Brandon Sproat. Tidwell was the Mets’ 52nd overall selection in the 2022 draft and is ranked #10 by MLB.com and #12 by Fangraphs in NY’s system. Tidwell boasts a plus fastball that sits in the mid 90s and a hard breaking slider with a little work needed on his curve, change, and command. While Tidwell had a very successful run through high A, there were some hiccups last year at AA with inconsistency throwing strikes. Tidwell could be a late 2024 addition to the Twins’ roster if things pan out, but he’s probably a 2025 guy with a good chance to stick in the rotation. Sproat was the Mets’ 2023 56th overall draft pick after not signing with their previous attempt in 2022, and MLB currently ranks him #14 in NY’s pipeline. Though he didn’t play at all last year for the Mets, his 4 pitch mix of raw stuff is impressive. The fastball which can touch 99, and his slider are potential plus pitches with the curve and changeup being legitimate MLB potential pitches with some work. The biggest problem has been repeatability, and Sproat is seemingly at least a couple years away with a greater likelihood of winding up in ‘pen vs. Tidwell.
Issue #4 - Finish the payroll slimming with a pitching lottery ticket
Finally, the Twins deal Kyle Farmer to the Tampa Bay Rays for now a21 Nick Bitsko, ranked #20 by Fangraphs and unranked by MLB.com. Bitsko was drafted in 2020 in the first round with the 24th overall pick by Tampa Bay. Bitsko was one of the very highest rated starting pitching prospects out of high school in 2020 and the Rays dropped an above-slot $3MM paycheck into his hands to acquire the plus fastball and curve, along with the highly rated slider and changeup that came with it. Bitsko was a Rapsodo darling and he re-classified from a 2021 prep class to 2020 and thanks to scouting and media presence the Rays nabbed him. Unfortunately, labrum surgery came almost immediately after his signing in December, 2020. After missing all of 2021, Bitsko made a handful of appearances in the second half of 2022 where control issues were very prevalent. Bitsko spent last year on the IL starting on the 7 day IL, then being moved to the 60 day IL in July, and I’m going to pretend additional information somehow exists on the subject, but there’s nothing out there. Here’s the bottom line. The Rays desperately need a player who can cover shortstop, won’t cost a lot of money and is durable given their situation with Wander Franco’s, uhhh issues… and Taylor Walls going down with surgery. That said, Farmer isn’t going to bring back much despite fitting the Rays’ needs to a tee. What he might be able to pry away is an absolute elite starting pitching prospect who has become nothing more than a lottery ticket. Plus, the Twins have some experience with Prielipp’s situation which could really be valuable here. Let’s stack our odds!
Issue #5 - Address some lineup inconsistency
While I think the Twins would love to add a proven bat to the roster, especially with Polanco and Kepler departing, there’s precious little available on the free agent market which would be obviously better than a healthy Jose Miranda, and who wouldn’t cost a ton of AAV or years. J.D. Martinez is one of the few legitimate options. Martinez is coming off yet another very good offensive season with the Dodgers, but he brings no defensive versatility, forcing Julien into the field at 1B where his glove played well in MiLB. If 2023 proved anything, the Twins need a reliable force at the plate and Martinez hasn’t finished a full season with a wRC+ of less than 119 since 2013. While Martinez is no longer a truly feared hitter in his prime, the Twins were happy to risk it for Nelson Cruz when they had the need a couple years ago. The Athletic predicts 1 year and $12MM for Martinez so I’ve thrown in a little extra for the Twins to outbid competitors at 1 year and $14MM. Speaking of Miranda, this is the move which will force him to start the year in AAA, provided fellow shoulder-surgery recipient Kirilloff is ready to start.
The big active roster changes include J.D. Martinez moving to DH which pushes Julien to first base and Kirilloff to the utility/bench bat role. Kirilloff is adequate in the corner outfield spots and can play first, but he's too unreliable to counted on as an every day player at this point and Julien's earned a starter role. At second base, Gordon had a terrible 2023 and Martin's completely unproven with what looks like a limited ceiling. Willi Castro plays excellent defense, doesn't need to be platooned and has earned an every day spot chance. Left field sees trade acquisition Duran as the regular with Wallner and his cannon arm settling nicely into right field.
C - Jeffers, Vazquez
1B - Julien, Kirilloff
2B - Castro, Gordon, Martin
3B - Lewis, Gordon, Martin
SS - Correa, Lewis, Gordon
LF - Duran, Kirilloff, Martin
CF - Buxton, Durran, Martin
RF - Wallner, Kirilloff, Gordon
DH - Martinez
Rotation - Lopez, Snell, Paddack, Ryan, Ober
Bullpen - Duran, Stewart, Jax, Funderburk, Thielbar, Varland, Alcala, Sands
Final Roster Construction and Payroll (--- Link, due to the extreme clumsiness of SportsNation.
At the end of this plan, the Twins have solidified the outfield by acquiring a starting caliber CF’er to backup Buxton. We’ve solidified what should be an elite rotation featuring Lopez, Snell and Paddack. The loss of plate production from Polanco and Kepler has been addressed by adding Martinez, and the payroll load has been significantly lightened. Finally, the Twins have added several high ceiling starter prospects by trading off short term assets to acquire Perales, Bitsko, Tidwell and Sproat.
Offseason free agency moves:
*Blake Snell – 5yrs $126MM
*J.D. Martinez – 1yr $14MM
The rule 5 eligible adds:
*Jorge Polanco & Trevor Larnach: trade to Red Sox for Jarren Duran & Luis Perales (40 Man)
*Kyle Farmer: trade to TBR for Nick Bitsko
*Max Kepler: trade to Mets for Blade Tidwell and Brandon Sproat