Where Can the Twins Find Some OBP for Their Lineup?
Image courtesy of Isaiah J. Downing, USA Today (D.J. LeMahieu)It wasn't a big surprise when the team non-tendered Robbie Grossman on Friday, nor was it an especially controversial move. But while Minnesota won't miss his lack of power or defensive prowess, they will absolutely miss his on-base proficiency. Among Twins players to make 500+ PA since 2016, Grossman led all with a .377 OBP.
In fact, here's what that list looks like:
1. Robbie Grossman – .377 OBP
2. Joe Mauer – .366 OBP
3. Brian Dozier – .339 OBP
4. Jorge Polanco – .327 OBP
5. Miguel Sano – .323 OBP
The top three guys on that list are gone, and Sano is coming off a 2018 campaign where he posted a .281 mark. Needless to say, the Twins are looking at a real deficiency in the on-base category. Of course they're hoping that rebounds and better health will trigger some improvement, but the fact remains: This is a roster full of free swingers with pop, and right now it is very short on disciplined hitters who can draw a walk.
The addition of C.J. Cron, who agreed to terms Friday on a one-year, $4.8 millon deal and appears penciled in at first base, doesn't help in this department. He has a .311 career OBP, and even in his career year of 2018 still struck out four times for every walk.
It's a weakness the front office will need to address with its remaining offseason moves. Perusing the Offseason Handbook and beyond, let's take a look at nine free agent options that might help move the needle.
Justin Bour, 1B
This is the kind of player the Twins should have been seeking at first base, in my opinion. With his .853 career OPS against right-handed pitchers, Bour would've been an ideal complement to Tyler Austin (.937 OPS vs. LHP). It's still possible the Twins will seek such an arrangement alongside Cron – also a righty – but that's not likely, which is too bad. In addition to his platooning fit, Bour would bring sorely needed patience to this offensive unit. His BB rates over the past three seasons: 11.8%, 11.0%, 14.6%. His 2018 mark would've led the Twins (Grossman and Mauer included).
D.J. LeMahieu, 2B
The two-time All-Star and 2016 NL batting champ is hitting the open market for the first time, and has been popular as a theoretical target for the Twins. It isn't hard to see why; over the past three years LeMahieu has slashed .309/.369/.429, and that middle number is especially attractive. In the Handbook, we added this caution: "Like many products of Coors Field, there are questions about his offensive numbers translating elsewhere. His career OPS is 160 points lower on the road than at home." If the Twins were to get an OBP closer to his .277 lifetime mark away from Coors, that would obviously not be helpful.
Jed Lowrie, 2B
I haven't seen Lowrie's name connected to Minnesota in reports yet, but I have to assume we will. He's a switch-hitter who's proven very adept in Oakland over the past two seasons – even making the All-Star team this year. He also turns 35 in April, so he won't require a long-term deal. If Lowrie's late-career surge with the A's (.356 OBP and .804 OPS in 2017-18) can sustain, he's very appealing. If he reverts to his previous form (.326 OBP and .726 OPS from 2008-16), less so.
Logan Forsythe, 2B
Should the Twins turn their gaze toward the lower end of the second base pool, they could go with Forsythe on a one-year deal and hope he provides some on-base juice to go along with his solid defense. The veteran posted a .359 OBP in 2015 with Tampa, and a .351 mark in 2017 with LA. He also turned in a .356 OBP in 50 games with the Twins after he was acquired this summer. But that figure stood at a .270 when the Dodgers dealt him, and his .327 career OBP is mediocre. Forsythe's bat has also been anemic the last two years: .228 AVG and .309 SLG. The ability to take walks becomes somewhat trivial at that rate.
Michael Brantley, LF
Brantley is past his lengthy bout with shoulder issues and back in All-Star form. This year he played in 143 games for Cleveland and posted a fantastic .309/.364/.468 slash line with a 60-to-48 K/BB ratio. He has a .351 career OBP and has been above that number every year since 2014 (except '16, when he played only 11 games). The problem is that he's a lefty-swinging left fielder, so he doesn't really fit with the roster as currently constructed. The Twins would need to shake things up – say, with an Eddie Rosario trade.
Nelson Cruz, DH
The premier slugger brings OBP (.342 career, .362 the past four seasons) as well as prodigious power, averaging 40 home runs since 2015. He'd be more lineup centerpiece than need-filling pickup, but the Twins could seemingly use one of those. That said, as a 38-year-old with zero defensive value and a big payday on the way, he's very unlikely.
Nick Markakis, RF
The uber-durable 13-year veteran is entering the market at an opportune time, coming off his best campaign in years. He played all 162 games for Atlanta, posting a .297/.366/.440 line with a 80-to-62 K/BB ratio, and helping push an upstart young squad to a surprise postseason appearance. Sounds like the kind of guy that Minnesota would really benefit from. Markakis has always been a patient hitter, with a .358 career OBP and 10.2% BB rate. But like Brantley, he's a lefty-swinging corner outfielder. Tough to see how that makes sense on a team with Rosario, Max Kepler and Jake Cave – unless the Twins were to, say, have Kepler split time between right and first, with Markakis splitting between right and DH.
Andrew McCutchen, RF
We now come to my absolute favorite option on this list (and perhaps on the entire offseason market). McCutchen is a former MVP and five time All-Star hitting the market at age 32. In recent years he hasn't been quite the same top-tier superstar, averaging 2.5 WAR the last three seasons compared to 6.9 from 2011 through 2015, but that'll keep his price tag reasonable and he's still a damn fine player. He has a .378 OBP and has been at or above .363 in nine of 10 MLB seasons. His 12.0% career BB rate is higher than Mauer's. Rotating his right-handed bat with the lefty-swinging corner outfielders and at DH would give McCutchen a regular role. He'd be an excellent leadoff guy.
Bryce Harper, RF
You want OBP? Here's a .388 career OBP and the game's second-highest BB rate since 2015, just sitting there for the taking. How fortuitous! I'm sure he won't cost all the much either. Nope, very affordable and plausible.
Who on this list would you like to see the Twins pursue? Are there other OBP-focused additions you'd be targeting?
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