Offseason Blueprint: Changing the Course
Image courtesy of © Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY SportsThe way I see it, the Twins have two options: 1) Try and go for it again in 2019 and build around the current roster, or 2) work to set things up better for 2020 and beyond.
Sure, there are some moves that would accomplish both of those things, but I don’t envision the Twins signing a Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.
Instead, I believe the best way to realize that eventual World Series potential is to continue to stockpile depth for 2020 and beyond while at the same time creating more opportunities for the young players who either debuted in 2018 or were in the high minors showing signs that they were close.
I can already hear the groans as I’m typing this. I understand why a lot of Twins fans won’t take kindly to this blueprint. When the rebuilding will ever stop? I’m more curious if it ever truly started in the first place.
The most frustrating thing about the Twins under Derek Falvey so far has been all the half measures taken. The first offseason, the team’s biggest need was addressed in the signing of a catcher, but there were no other efforts to upgrade the club. Then there was the buy/sell move at the trade deadline later that season, one of the biggest examples of indecisiveness I can ever recall by any front office.
Last winter (and even into spring), there was another honest effort to upgrade the team, but primarily in the short term. Given that was the case, it was all too easy to tear down the roster at the deadline.
Even how they’ve treated the manager situation has been very half-hearted up to this point. Falvey had no choice but to accept Paul Molitor as manager, but the three-year deal he signed after the 2017 season appeared to have been a commitment to stability in that spot. We all know how that turned out.
I’m not saying I disagreed with all those moves, but taking a look at the big picture, you’re certainly left with an image of a leadership group that’s done a very poor job at committing to anything. Flexibility can be a valuable attribute, but at some point this front office is going to need to pick a lane and stay in it.
The next big wave of Twins talent is topped by Alex Kirilloff, Royce Lewis and Brusdar Graterol. It’s conceivable all three could be September callups this coming season, but it is more reasonable to expect all three arrive in 2020. But those are just the headliners. There will be plenty of other prospects who will blossom between now and then.
There will be a ton of seeds all continuing to germinate in the high minors next season. Not all of them are going to maturate, but It seems likely the foundation of the next great Twins team will come from that crop of players. As we’ve seen with the current wave of homegrown Twins, there will be some who surprise and some who experience more growing pains than we expect.
But where does that leave the current team?
The great news is several of the players on the team right now will still be under team control long enough for there to be some overlap with the next wave. Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano will be around through 2021. Jose Berrios, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, Byron Buxton and Taylor Rogers will be around through 2022.
Before we get going, this blueprint is in some ways a companion piece to the article I wrote for the Offseason Handbook. You may understand where I’m coming from a little better if you read that piece. OK, let’s get into my moves. Brace yourself, this might hurt.
Love me tender.
Everybody gets tendered a contract! I'm going to be both removing some outfield depth and some veteran leadership, so Robbie Grossman still makes plenty of sense on a one-year deal projected to be around $4 million. With Ehire Adrianza, the Twins are so shallow in the infield right now that I think he’s worth hanging on to for the projected $2 million.
Free agency? No thank you.
I’m going thrift shopping, and not for the Lance Lynn/Logan Morrison types. We’re talking bottom of the barrel. There have been some real valuable pieces acquired over the past several offseasons among the players who were non-tendered or became minor league free agents.
The Twins saw both sides on the coin in terms of minor league free agents last year. They lost Dereck Rodriguez to the Giants, but added Willians Astudillo. You’re really mining for diamonds in the rough in this universe of players, but when you hit it’s an incredible value. You get multiple years of team control on a player who’s going to be affordable. You’re probably not going to find stars among the guys in this market (though it does happen), but a multi-year role player or bullpen piece would be a really savvy pickup.
We don't know who will be non-tendered yet and I haven't scoured the list of minor league free agents to be, so I don't have specific names, but this is definitely an area in which the Twins should be aggressive.
Trade away Max Kepler, Kyle Gibson and Jake Odorizzi.
Here’s the knockout blow. This would hurt. Gibson was a rare bright spot from the 2018 season and one of the most likable guys on the team. That level of attachment isn’t there with Odorizzi, but he had a very nice season and turning over two-thirds of the established rotation would be very tough. On the other hand, Gibson, Odorizzi and Michael Pineda (more on him in a minute) are all set to become free agents after this upcoming season.
Dealing away Kepler has the kind of disaster potential that could get somebody fired. It could end up being Aaron Hicks all over again. So why deal him? Well there’s already an argument to be made that Jake Cave deserves regular playing time over Kepler in 2019, but this has as much to do with making room for Alex Kirilloff than anything. It seems highly likely Kepler will be passed up one way or another.
Why Max? Eddie Rosario is already what I think we all believe Kepler could be at his peak and trading Byron Buxton has even more disaster potential, mainly because his value is so low right now. Cave showed promise, but his track record is too short to garner any real trade value at this point. Trading Kepler has the best balance of potential risk vs. potential reward among the current crop of outfielders.
The Twins have invested more than 1,600 plate appearances in Kepler and have seen very little progress at the plate. Being a strong and versatile defensive outfielder who is affordable and has upside, Kepler still figures to have plenty of trade value despite his lack of progress to this point.
Make sure you grab a copy of the Twins Daily Offseason Handbook, which features an excellent article on Kepler written by Aaron Gleeman.
The primary reason for listing these guys as trade bait is because they’re valuable. This isn’t a knock against them, if anything it’s quite the opposite. I think they could be flipped for additional pieces that help usher in a glory run in Twins Territory.
So what would I be looking to acquire in these deals? Primarily infielders and high-velocity pitchers. The closer to the majors the better. The Twins don't really have a second baseman right now and I'm not sure anybody believes that Miguel Sano is going to stay at third base long term.
On the pitching need, velocity isn’t everything but it sure helps. Plenty of pitchers are effective in the low 90s, but if you watched the postseason you know the Twins are seriously lacking in high-velocity options.
Throughout the entire year, only a grand total of four pitches were thrown 98.5 mph or harder by the Twins staff, three of which came from guys who are no longer in the organization (two from Pressly and one each from Fernando Rodney). In the five World Series games there was a grand total of 97 pitches thrown at least 98.5 mph.
Alright, let’s get into specifics. It’s nearly impossible for me to sit here and try come up with actual trades that make sense. The trade market is a mysterious beast. I did my best. My general theory was to take what I think the Twins could get, then lower that expectation a bit.
Max Kepler to the Angels for Jahmai Jones, Keynan Middleton and Jake Jewell
A consensus top 100 prospect last offseason, Jones hit .239/.337/.380 (.717) between High A and Double A. He was primarily a center fielder prior to being converted to second base last season. He still has some things to iron out at the keystone, but I love the fact that he has some flexibility. Jones doesn’t have a single tool that projects to be below average. He’s currently turning heads in the Arizona Fall League.
Middleton, a right-handed reliever, has the ability to sit 96 mph and topped out at 99 for the Angels last year. He has a 3.43 ERA, 9.4 K/9 and has even racked up nine saves in 76 major league innings over the past two seasons. He's a guy that could finish off games for years to come. The catch? He had Tommy John surgery in May.
Another right-handed reliever, Jewell is also coming off an injury. He suffered a fractured fibula while covering home plate, but should be recovered sometime in December. He made his MLB debut for the Angels this year and topped out at 97 mph. He hasn’t posted big strikeout rates in the minors despite the velo, but Jewell gets a ton of ground balls with his hard sinker.
Every year you have a Mike Trout in your organization is a year you need to be going for it, so the Angels have that incentive to improve. Shohei Ohtani had Tommy John surgery, but for now they’re expecting him to be available to DH next season. It’ll be interesting to see how that goes. The Angels do have Jo Adell, one of the top outfield prospects in baseball, but Kepler is a guy they can bank on to at the very least deliver similar production to what he’s given the Twins the past three seasons. There’s a lot of value in that to a team like the Angels who have question marks.
Kyle Gibson to Milwaukee for Lucas Erceg
Erceg, a left-handed hitting third baseman, is coming off a disappointing 2018 season in which he had a .688 OPS for the Brewers Double-A affiliate. He dealt with back issues in spring training, then was hit in the head by a pitch in April. Not sure if those things caused a slow start but they certainly couldn’t have had a positive impact. He played much better over his final 57 games of the season, posting a .761 OPS while slugging eight of his 13 homers on the season. In more than 500 plate appearances, Erceg had just 82 strikeouts, and there are no questions about his defense or especially his arm strength at third base. I think he’s also going to hit for power.
Milwaukee had an incredible run this past season, but they need starting pitching help. Erceg is among their better prospects, but even with Mike Moustakas hitting free agency they still have Travis Shaw to play third base. Again, Gibby's only under contract for one more season.
Jake Odorizzi to Oakland for Eli White
White posted an .838 OPS in Double A last year while playing second base, shortstop, third base and even a little bit of center field. He has an advanced approach at the plate, but his tools aren't loud. Seems like the type of guy who, if he develops, could be a nice utility player. He's putting together a strong run in the AFL right now.
Oakland’s already pretty stacked on the infield, but they could really use some more starting pitching. Billy Bean has indicated that payroll room won’t be an issue for the A’s in 2019, so they should have no trouble finding room for Odorizzi’s salary. This would be the fourth time Odorizzi would be traded.
Trade Jason Castro, Michael Pineda and Addison Reed at the deadline.
Unlike the names I mentioned above, this trio needs to build up value before teams are going to give up anything of significance to acquire them. All three need to prove that they’re healthy.
Castro needs to show his knee is fully repaired and ready for the rigors of catching. Pineda’s arm should be recovered, but he’s now coming off knee surgery. Reed ended last season on the active roster, but his velocity dip is a huge red flag. All those question marks may dissolve with a few good months, and if that happens these guys could be hot commodities at the 2019 trade deadline.
Depending on how things are progressing, at some point it would probably also make a lot of sense to trade away Trevor May, who’s only under team control through 2020. Ouch. That hurt to say too.
What about all that money coming off the books? The big concern with implementing a plan like this is the message you’re sending to the guys you want to keep around. The best way to ease their minds would be to engage in extension talks with virtually every player you see fitting into the big picture, long term.
You’re not going to work out a deal with all of them in one winter, but if you sign a couple extensions and at least show the other players you’re willing to invest in them further, I think the tear down becomes an easier pill to swallow. With this blueprint, it would definitely be possible to front load some extensions, providing guys with significant raises right away. I'd have to think that would be a nice motivational tool. I'm going to avoid throwing out any specifics here. If the trade market is a mysterious beast then projecting extensions is a mythical creature.
With that said, let’s take a look at my projected 2019 Opening Day roster:
Rotation: Jose Berrios, Michael Pineda, Adalberto Mejia, Fernando Romero and the winner of the fifth starter spring training battle royale.
Bullpen: Trevor May, Taylor Rogers, Trevor Hildenberger, Addison Reed, Oliver Drake, Gabriel Moya and Jake Jewell.
C: Jason Castro
1B: Tyler Austin
2B: Nick Gordon
3B: Miguel Sano
SS: Jorge Polanco
LF: Eddie Rosario
CF: Byron Buxton
RF: Jake Cave
DH: Robbie Grossman
Bench: Mitch Garver, Ehire Adrianza, Willians Astudillo
Among the candidates for the fifth starter would be Kohl Stewart, Stephen Gonsalves, Zack Littell, Chase De Jong, Aaron Slegers, Lewis Thorpe and any of the bargain free agents. Out in the bullpen, Tyler Duffey, Alan Busenitz, John Curtiss, Matt Magill and Andrew Vasquez would all also be in the mix plus any of the thrift shop additions.
This team might honestly get the Twins into hot water with the MLB because the payroll would be so ridiculously low. At the same time, I also think this team could probably still finish second in the AL Central in 2019. If Cleveland collapses and this team somehow finds itself in first place at the deadline, the front office would have both the payroll room and prospect capital to make some massive moves if they saw fit.
Yes, I'm basically going to dare Nick Gordon to take over as the everyday second baseman. I know he had a terrible end to 2018, but that seems to be a bit of a trend for him. Adrianza is there and in this scenario you'd also go out and acquire another bargain bin insurance option a la Gregrio Petit.
New additions Jahmai Jones and Eli White would be back in the high minors to start the year, but could pushing for promotions in the second half. If Gordon falters, one of those guys is next up. If nobody sticks come July ... Royce Lewis time?!?! Lucas Erceg would also be knocking at the door and would push Miguel Sano to a 1B/DH role upon his arrival. Out in the bullpen, Keynan Middleton would join that unit sometime in the second half once he was recovered from TJ. Even with trading away Kepler, there's still enough outfield depth that allows LaMonte Wade to start the year back in the minors. Brent Rooker would also be waiting in the wings for a shot at 1B/DH.
This team would look a heck of a lot different after the trade deadline.
There’s no way the Twins would do anything similar to what I’m suggesting here, right? Well, two moves made later this past season indicate to me that this front office already has 2020 vision. If they thought this team was going to be a legit contender next season, I don’t think they would have traded away Ryan Pressly and they would have prioritized getting Buxton more plate appearances in September over gaining another year of team control.
Throughout the coming days there will be more blueprints offered up by others here at Twins Daily. I bargain that most of them will focus on how to build this team up to compete in 2019.
I’m looking forward to seeing what everybody comes up with, and it’s possible that I’ll fall in love with someone else’s blueprint even above my own. Again, the one thing I want to see from the Twins going forward more than anything else is decisiveness. If they’re going to go for it, dive in head first. No more half measures.
Please let me know what you think of this blueprint. If you’d like to take a crack at building a blueprint of your own, I think I speak for the entire Twins Daily community in saying we would love to read it. The best place to do that would be in the blog section or in the forum thread Nick started.
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