What the Early Twins Offseason Rumblings Tell Us
Image courtesy of Andy Marlin-USA TODAY SportsHere are five conclusions I've drawn based on signals rising from the offseason landscape.
1: The Twins will need to pay a hefty premium to sign Zack Wheeler
The team's interest in Wheeler is no secret. It's also clear they have company in this regard.
The appeal of Wheeler heading into this offseason was easy enough to see: He's got rotation-fronting ability, but it never fully manifested in New York for various reasons. In seven seasons with the Mets he never threw 200 innings, while totaling a 3.71 FIP and 100 ERA+. In other words, his overall performance was almost exactly average.
This backdrop set the stage for a team to acquire the 29-year-old's untapped potential at a relative discount, but when virtually every other front office has the same idea, the whole "discount" proposition goes out the window. To wit: Dan Hayes of The Athletic is hearing Wheeler could land something in the range of five years at $20-22 million per.
That seems astounding for a guy with Wheeler's track record, but it reflects something we're seeing elsewhere on this offseason's pitching market, and more broadly as well: front offices are paying for the future, not the past. It sounds obvious, but has hardly been the norm throughout the history of free agency. Players got paid based on their accomplishments. It's basically what makes the service-time system work – to the extent it does.
We're seeing a clear shift though. It's evident when Drew Pomeranz, owner of a 4-16 record and 5.36 ERA over the past two seasons, signs with San Diego for four years and $34 million guaranteed. It's evident when Kyle Gibson, who possesses a 4.52 career ERA and torpedoed late in a turbulent 2019 campaign with Minnesota, scores a $30 million payday with Texas (a team that previously executed similar plans with Lance Lynn and Mike Minor, with great success).
And it's evident in the relative buzz around Wheeler, compared to other second-tier options like Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jun Ryu. Bumgarner is a four-time All-Star, a former World Series MVP, and fourth among active pitchers in ERA. Ryu finished second in NL Cy Young balloting this year, led the league in ERA, and owns a 2.98 career mark. Both hurlers have ample postseason experience.
Wheeler is lacking in all of these credentials, but nevertheless, the preference of teams around the league seemingly aligns with that of Twins Daily's Twitter following:
So if the Twins want to add Wheeler, they're surely going to have to go well beyond the "bargain" realm. And if they truly believe in his ability to be that linchpin force atop the rotation, they should be comfortable doing just that.
2: The Twins aren't dead-set on bringing back Jason Castro
If they were, they would've already done it. At least, that's my read.
The free agent catching market has been active early, and another name came off the market last week with Yan Gomes re-upping in Washington. Castro is still out there, and a reunion remains very much in play, but the more time passes, the more likely it seems that both sides are seriously exploring other options.
Given how well he fits, as a lefty-swinging veteran presence with strong defensive chops and a built-in rapport, I figured the Twins might just lock Castro down quickly and check that need off the list. Instead, they're taking their time.
3: More projects are coming to the bullpen
As much as I'd love to see the Twins take an aggressive approach in powering up an already-potent bullpen, it always seemed more likely they'd focus the majority of available resources on the rotation. Uncovering hidden gems and converting previous starters has been the recipe for building this current unit into an asset, so why not stick with it?
The claim of left-hander Matt Wisler, a former starter who saw his K/9 rate skyrocket to 11.5 as a reliever this year, fits that bill. As does the more recent addition of Mitch Horacek, who is himself finding his way in the minors as a hard-throwing reliever, after transitioning from a previous starting role.
Blaine Hardy, signed to a minors deal last week alongside Horacek, brings another lefty arm to the mix with MLB experience and depressed stock.
The Twins are piling up "maybes" in a way that might negate their need to spend on ostensible "sure things." I'd still like to see at least one clear high-impact acquisition for the back end of the bullpen, though. I find myself wondering if the Twins fancy Blake Treinen, who's reportedly being made very available by the A's, as an opportunistic addition in that realm. The Yankees are said to be moving in.
4: Moving Miguel Sano to first base is on the table
The Twins face a fairly important deadline on Monday, when they must make decisions on all of their arbitration-eligible players. The biggest question mark among that group is C.J. Cron, who was a key piece of their lineup in the first half, largely a nonfactor in the second half, and is now coming off thumb surgery. The possibility of sliding Sano, who was generally a negative with the glove at third base, across the diamond has been broached by fans often, and it does appear to be something the team is considering.
The idea of pairing Donaldson with Sano at the infield corners is beyond tantalizing. Mike Moustakas would also be a good fit in this capacity. (Todd Frazier though? Eh.)
5: The White Sox mean business. (And the Indians might not?)
Minnesota will likely enter the 2020 season as favorites in the AL Central, but they won't have the luxury of three teams making zero meaningful effort to compete. The White Sox registered a statement with their bold signing of Yasmani Grandal to a $73 million contract, and they also reached a new deal with slugger Jose Abreu to keep him at the heart of their lineup for three more years.
Chicago's talent pipeline is about ready to start delivering. Nick Madrigal might be their Opening Day second baseman, with the release of Yolmer Sanchez paving way. Meanwhile, Lucas Giolito is arguably the best starter in the division, and the Sox are reportedly looking to add another piece alongside him atop the rotation:
Potentially offsetting this development: Cleveland sure doesn't seem intent on making a push to retake the division. I haven't heard the Indians connected to any big names, and in fact, they've have been more prominently framed as sellers. Francisco Lindor, two years away from free agency, is apparently drawing interest.
Corey Kluber is on the same timeline (FA after 2021) and his name came up in rumors last winter, so I fully expect to see it happen again. Trading either Lindor or Kluber would signal a pseudo-rebuild for Cleveland.
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