The 12 Free Agents of Twins-mas: Part I – Infielders
Image courtesy of © Gerry Angus-USA TODAY SportsWith the hottest of hot gloves, Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon, off the market, there are still hundreds of eligible free agents, eagerly awaiting the name on the front of their next jerseys. While the Twins have their work cut out for them in bolstering their rotation (looking at you, Ryu), there are still small, yet prominent holes that need to be plugged throughout the team.
This three-part series will cover the twelve free agents that the Twins should spend the remainder of their payroll on this holiday season. Stay tuned for Part II – Outfielders and Part III – Pitchers in the coming weeks. Feel free to sing along. No turtle doves were harmed in the making of this list.
First FA of Twins-mas: Justin Smoak, 1B
2019 salary: $4.25M
Twins should offer: 1 year, $5M
Justin Smoak was a part of a team whose core included Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, and Edwin Encarnacion, who collectively led the Toronto Blue Jays to divisional dominance in the AL East for much of the 2010’s. Just like the three aforementioned players, Justin Smoak is looking for a new home. However, unlike Donaldson and Encarnacion, Smoak has struggled to match his offensive numbers after an All-Star bid in 2017. In 2019, Smoak hit .208/.342/.406 and a meager 22 home runs, in the year of the (allegedly) juiced ball.
However, at 33-years-old, Smoak still has a few years left in his prime. In addition, the Twins have a gap in their lineup at first base. Although Miguel Sano is a potential substitute in this position, his defensive metrics are a cause for concern. In 100 games in 2019, Sano committed a total of 19 errors and held a fielding percentage of .956 at first base, far below the league average of .993. In 89 games, Smoak committed only four errors, with a fielding percentage of .995.
However, the elephant in Smoak’s locker room is the concern for his offensive production in 2020. The “Bomba Squad” campaign showed that defense is not always key with this team. Having someone like Smoak to ensure that each defensive stone is turned can be key in close, divisional games. This will also bring great ease to Twins fans across the territory, who collectively groaned far too many times in 2019 due to missed defensive plays by Sano.
Lastly, with the retirement of Joe Mauer and the loss of Kyle Gibson to the Texas Rangers, the team could use a veteran presence. Justin Smoak is widely known as a “clubhouse guy” and was a fan favorite in Canada during his tenure with the Blue Jays. Smoak can be a great leader for the numerous, young Twins, while quickly becoming a fan favorite in Minnesota as well.
In this free agent market, first basemen are not a dime-a-dozen. Therefore, the Twins should invest in Justin Smoak as a defensive key to improve the team from 26th in the league in fielding percentage, to at the minimum, league average.
Second FA of Twins-mas: Greg Bird, 1B
2019 salary: $1.2M
Twins offer: Minor League Deal
Greg Bird had a long, frustrating, and very disappointing tenure with the Yankees. Every step forward launched seven steps back and an even longer stint on the injured list. The man who was once deemed “the future of the Yankees” was kicked out of his nest in the Bronx earlier this winter. Despite being a free agent for this first time in his career, there has been little to no activity in potential landing spots for Bird.
The Bad: Bird missed all of 2016 due to injury.
The Ugly: He has only played in 186 games since 2015.
For reference, Jorge Polanco played the most games for the Twins last year, at 153 games. There’s only one thing going for Greg Bird at this point: he’s 27-years-old.
It’s no secret that the Bronx isn’t a welcoming playground for struggling players (remember Sonny Gray?). However, Bird’s 2019 spring training statistics are a glimmer of hope for a resurgence. He hit an impressive .333/.500/.643, which shows that the pieces are still there, somewhere underneath the injuries. In a more welcoming environment such as Minnesota, where Bird would not face the same pressure to perform right away, he might thrive. With little to no pressure for Bird to join the roster, he can take the time that is needed to re-establish himself in the minor leagues.
If betting on Bird pays off, it could pay off big time. In the scenario that future first baseman and Marwin Gonzalez both face injuries, which occurred in 2019, Bird could be a highly effective substitute. Although his sample size is small, Greg Bird has had solid defensive numbers at first base, with his fielding percentage consistently hovering near 1.000. Lastly, Greg Bird was an effective asset in the playoffs when he was healthy enough to join the postseason roster. In two postseasons with the Yankees, Greg Bird put up .250/.421/.500. For reference, only Luis Arraez, Eddie Rosario, and Jorge Polanco had better numbers for all three stats in the short-lived 2019 postseason.
It takes one spark to create a forest fire. If the Twins sign Greg Bird to a minor league deal, and it doesn’t work out as intended, the Twins don’t lose out long term, unlike committing a multi-year, multi-million dollar deal to an older player whose future is also uncertain. However, if Greg Bird finds his groove, he could find himself in a critical role on the Twins’ roster. Did I mention that Bird is currently playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic and looks the healthiest he has been since spring training? Let’s keep an eye on this bird.
Third FA of Twins-mas: C.J. Cron, 1B
2019 salary: $4.8M
Twins offer: 2 year, $12M
This last free agent slot was a difficult one to fill. Josh Donaldson is an obvious choice, and as one of the many villains of Target Field with a spectacular tenure with the Braves in 2019, I have no doubts about his performance. With only $33M left in payroll for the Twins to commit to in 2020 (please read this), I would like to see as much of this allocated to other necessities, such as signing a primo pitcher for first half of the next decade. Therefore, the final FA on this list is another bargain with an even more familiar face.
C.J. Cron had a decent year with the Twins. Cron first brushed with the injured list on July 7 with thumb inflammation. After this, he faced on and off stints on the IL until the postseason, where his .200 batting average clearly indicated that his thumb injury was still lingering. Prior to his first stint on the IL in July, Cron hit 266/.326/.495 with 17 homers and 18 doubles in 78 games. His season ended with just eight more home runs and six more doubles.
On the defensive side, Cron is solid and consistent. In 2018 and 2019, Cron put up positive values for Rtot/year. His defensive measures have consistently improved year over year from his first season in the majors with the Angels in 2014. His fielding percentage in 2019 was .992 and he turned 87 double plays, the highest in his career, despite any potential hindrance from his injury.
Cron underwent thumb surgery in October and will be ready for spring training. Despite the unfortunate injury which tainted Cron’s overall performance, Cron’s consistency and persistence show that he can continue to be an asset in Minnesota if he is given a second chance here. At 29-years-old, Cron still has prime years for the Twins to invest in with plenty to prove in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. I am hoping that the man with the best walk-up song in 2019 makes an eventual return to Target Field.
Editor's Note: Rena is a new contributor to Twins Daily. You can find her on Twitter @renabanena.
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