Twins Offseason Status Update: February Free Agent Frenzy
Image courtesy of Jay Biggerstaff and Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY SportsThe last time I filed one of these status update reports was 10 days ago, although it feels like about 10 months in the pacing of this offseason. Back then, we were breaking down the new J.A. Happ signing and wondering when anything of true substance would come.
In less than two weeks since, the Twins have signed Andrelton Simmons, Nelson Cruz, and Alex Colomé, committing $30 million in guaranteed money while furiously crossing off boxes on the front office's checklist. Suddenly, they've already surpassed the $125 million threshold that we had set as a reasonable benchmark (a 10% reduction from the planned 2020 payroll).
Maeda's very reachable performance incentives, which will likely push his salary into the $10-12 million range, are not reflected in the spreadsheet above. So the effective payroll is about $130 million. That's creeping up on last year's planned commitment (around $138 million, as we had it figured). And it seems highly unlikely they are done.
More on that momentarily. But first, let's get caught up on Minnesota's free agency foray.
ANDRELTON UPGRADES THE INFIELD
The Andrelton Simmons signing is a fascinating one, because it's fundamentally transformative on so many levels. Adding a new shortstop wasn't even a clear-cut need coming into the offseason, but by infusing an elite defender and occasional MVP contender in Simmons, the Twins have essentially upgraded three positions in one fell swoop: short, second base, super utility.
A nifty bit of handiwork from the front office, especially given that Simmons' contract is the most palatable among the top three free agent shortstops. Following his signing, our writers explored the many impacts and implications of adding an historically brilliant defensive shortstop to the Twins infield:
- Cody Pirkl wrote that Simmons is the perfect match for Minnesota – a resounding upgrade on a one-year deal that leaves the door open for Royce Lewis.
- I dissected the new role of Luis Arráez, who becomes a super-utility sparkplug while returning to somewhat familiar territory.
- Ted Schwerzler argued that Andrelton's addition gives the Twins baseball's best infield, and if everyone can stay healthy that may well prove true.
- David Youngs wondered if the Twins might still have a need for a second backup infielder, a la the Ehire Adrianza role.
- Seth Stohs, Matthew Taylor and Nate Palmer analyzed the Simmons signing right after it happened on Offseason Live:
CRUZ AND UNFINISHED BUSINESS
Nelson Cruz did just about everything during his first two years as a Twin – other than win a playoff game, that is. The borderline Hall of Famer has enjoyed a beautiful swan song while getting sucked into Minnesota's ugly postseason abyss.
Now, in what could well be his final MLB season, it's no mystery where Cruz's sights are set.
After months of inertia, the Twins and Cruz reportedly re-engaged in discussions last weekend. From there, the dominoes swiftly fell: universal DH more or less came off the table with MLBPA's rejection of a league proposal, then media reports started to hint at the Twins' growing impatience, and a day later, boom(stick): the deal is done.
There's no griping about a one-year, $13 million contract, which left the Twins with flexibility to make the signing we'll discuss next (and maybe more). Cruz was unfortunately leveraged into a corner, but it ends up leaving the team in good shape to optimize around him. In doing so, they increase of odds of him conquering his elusive ultimate goal in a Twins uniform.
BULLPEN BOLSTERED BY A FORMER RIVAL
Cruz's signing was no big surprise to anyone who's been following the coverage of Dan Hayes of The Athletic this offseason. That move was essentially foretold by his report the preceding weekend, and so was the one that quickly followed. Dan telegraphed the imminent Colomé signing immediately after he broke the Cruz news:
With all due respect to the many people and friends I admire in local media, Hayes is lapping the field with his Twins reporting this offseason. He's been on all these developments like white on ... Dan Hayes.
Jokes and groveling aside, the Twins' interest in Colomé has hardly been a secret, dating back months. Securing his buddy Nelly seemingly sealed the deal with Alex as well. The former White Sox closer's contract is downright reasonable considering his immaculately consistent track record. As a former All-Star and routinely high-end closer, he brings a new dimension of legitimacy to the back end of Minnesota's bullpen.
The White Sox ponied up a staggering $54 million to acquire Liam Hendriks two weeks ago. In the absolute best-case scenario, Hendriks will equal the results produced by Colomé over the past two years as Chicago closer: 2.27 ERA, 3.43 WPA (almost identical to Hendriks' mark in Oakland), 91% save percentage (superior to Hendriks' mark in Oakland).
Is Hendriks a better and vastly more dominant pitcher at this point? No doubt. But our guy Tom Froemming put it well: you don't get style points. Scoreless innings are scoreless innings. Bridged leads and closed-out victories are what they are. Colomé has a far lengthier track record of getting it done than Hendriks, for whom the White Sox paid literally tenfold.
This is going to be a fascinating subplot to follow in what promises to be a delightful Twins-Sox rivalry this summer.
ODORIZZI STILL IN PLAY?
As spring training approaches, Jake Odorizzi remains a free agent. A recent report in the Star Tribune from La Velle E. Neal III indicates that the Twins haven't given up on bringing back the right-hander, although there are no signs of momentum in that report or elsewhere. Every rumor and rumbling I've heard suggests the two sides aren't close on terms.
La Velle's article was also published before the Cruz signing, but it's worth noting this nugget he included: "It's not out of the question that the Twins bring back both Cruz and Odorizzi." Which leads us to our final point of discussion for today.
Even with Colomé added to the mix, the bullpen isn't all that deep with Cody Stashak (who's thrown 40 major-league innings) and "TBD" rounding out the final spots. It feels like there may be another acquisition on tap, as signaled by multiple sources.
The same can be said for the rotation, which thus far has received only Happ to replace Odorizzi, Rich Hill and Homer Bailey. So, one wonders: how much is left to spend?
It seems clear that Minnesota is ready to stretch the budget beyond our historically-conditioned expectations.
"None of our objective includes trying to make up for what happened in 2020," said Twins owner Jim Pohlad in Neal's article, published prior to the Cruz and Colomé signings. "It was significant. It was devastating. And you have to accept that as a loss going forward and not make it a goal to recover those losses either from fans or by affecting our payroll. That's not the mind-set we have been in at all."
They're backing that up, with a spending projection that is healthily above the league average, and a proven willingness to jump on the right opportunities.
Which other ones will emerge? Two weeks until Fort Myers.
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