Spending the Twins' Excess Cash
Image courtesy of © Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY SportsPayroll and spending are significant points of contention for small and mid-market clubs across Major League Baseball. Fans should always implore billionaire owners turning exorbitant profits to dole out more cash. Spending for the sake of doing so isn’t wise but asking for more talent to be acquired during competitive cycles is certainly a fair ask. Right now, the Twins find themselves amid a terrible division with a leading team that has taken substantial steps backwards. Given the internal talent and proximity of prospects, a window of opportunity has certainly begun to crack.
Thus far the organization has acquired the services of Jonathan Schoop, C.J. Cron, Nelson Cruz, and Parker this offseason. That’s a nice foursome of talent and there’s no denying the roster is in a better place now than it ended a season ago. Given the amount of deficit between year over year payrolls however, there’s real need for the dollars to be put to work.
On the free agent front there’s a dwindling number of options for Minnesota left to explore. Offensively things look all but set, and there should be plenty of reason to be content with that notion. If we’re talking about pitching additions, then there’s still opportunity to do more. Right now, Rocco Baldelli has four of the five rotation spots all but set in stone, with ample possibilities when thinking about how to round it out. That group could be bolstered with the depth addition of a veteran starter, and that’s an area to explore. A more pressing need still would be in the form of a reliever capable of possessing a high amount of reliability.
Assuming the Twins won’t be vying for the services of Adam Ottavino or Craig Kimbrel, the duo of Cody Allen and Brad Brach are plenty intriguing to this writer. Allen is just 30 years old and while he’s coming off a down year, the numbers prior to that are all promising. Dating back to 2012, the Indians former closer had never posted an ERA north of 2.99 until he was hit with a 4.70 mark in 2018. The strikeout stuff is there (11.5 K/9 career) and his 3.5 BB/9 rate is hardly a concern. Velocity loss was a real thing for Allen last season, but his durability remained in- tact and a bounce-back year could be in store. If he could be had on a one-year deal worth something like $10 million that’s a contract Minnesota should sign up for.
Another former closer, Brad Brach is nearly three years older, but should be available on a bit lesser of a deal. His strikeout rates aren’t as high (9.5 K/9 career) and his 4.0 BB/9 is a tad high. However, he too has shown an ability to be a durable back-end option, and his 1.52 ERA down the stretch for Atlanta helped to calm some questions about what went wrong in 2018 with Baltimore (4.85 ERA). Pairing Brach with Parker and Addison Reed would give the Twins a trio of established vets that all have an ability to emerge as better than they’ve recently been. Coming off a $5.16 million payday in 2018, netting Brach at $6 or $7 million on a one-year pact seems doable.
Should Falvey target either of the relievers, Minnesota’s payroll creeps up near $110 million. Adding a starter probably does a bit more for the overall total, and a Keuchel acquisition would certainly push things near the $120 million total. It’d be a shock if the Twins were in on the former Astros ace, but this could be a situation in which they emerge as somewhat of a surprise suitor. Keuchel would represent a boost to the rotation, and a $20 million average annual value wouldn’t break the Twins bottom line. He’s not the 2015 version of himself at this point, but he’d be an anchor in the rotation and has long been a command wizard while giving up a bit on the strikeout front. The Twins could offer Dallas a three-year $60 million contract and feel good about what they’d be getting.
Any way you cut it, I’m coming up with a number somewhere between the $110-120 million range should the organization add another free agent. A desired step back in payroll from the highest in history is a fair ask, but relative to revenues, it’s much more sensible to at least continue with the same water mark. In closing whatever deficit would be left, Minnesota has three key internal options that could be looked at in terms of spending.
Jose Berrios will soon embark upon his age 25 season and has already compiled just under 400 big league innings. He made his first All-Star game in 2018 and has the makings of a staff ace. The Puerto Rican native is in the final year of arbitration eligibility and can become a free agent in 2023. If I’m the Twins, now is the time to make sure you’ve got cost savings on this type of a talent. An extension buying out his arbitration years would give Berrios a nice payday, while giving the team some long-term savings. Another payday could then still happen as Berrios would be 29 when he hits free agency for the first time.
The two more polarizing options internally come in the form of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton. Both former top prospects have flashed what was once expected of them, but neither has put it all together. A new coaching staff in place, and yet another offseason of reset, this is probably the last time the Twins will be in an advantageous situation regarding either of their contracts. Both players hit arbitration for the first time in 2019, with Sano becoming a free agent in 2022 (with Buxton a year later due to his service time manipulation in 2018). Should the Twins have belief that the best is yet to come, now is the time to strike.
An extension for Sano would come on the heels of a season in which he posted just a .679 OPS, was demoted to Single A, and played in just 71 games. It would be reflective of a belief that there has been buy-in to the conditioning program this winter, and that the new manager would be able to unlock and develop his potential. Should the Dominican post another .916 OPS like his rookie year, or .859 mark as an All-Star in 2017, any chance of a team-friendly deal likely goes out the window.
The same logic applies to Buxton in that we saw 28 dismal games and there’s only room to go up from there. Byron was both hurt and ineffective for the majority of 2018. Coming off a September in which he felt scorned, a nice payday would likely help to smooth things over with the front office. Although he’s yet to display his September 2017 performance over a long stretch, that type of talent is the thing MVP’s are made of. Should Baldelli be able to get even a high percentage of his potential from the Georgia native, Minnesota will be looking at a player excited about hitting free agency as soon as possible.
Putting a bow on all of this, Minnesota has a good chunk of change yet to dole out. Grabbing one more free agent and then allocating the extras to some expected cornerstones would be a nice way to wrap up the period in which there is no baseball. We have another month or so until players report to spring training, but how the front office decides to navigate that journey remains one worth watching.
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