Offseason Blueprint: Hooking a Big Fish
Image courtesy of © Brad Mills-USA TODAY SportsEvery team in baseball should be salivating at the thought of adding either Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg to their starting rotation. Young aces simply don’t hit the free agent market often, and when they do the costs will be substantial. Minnesota can afford either (and even both), but I’d expect Cole to look at the West Coast or New York, while Strasburg returns to D.C. with on a hefty raise. That doesn’t mean all is lost for the Twins, but how they react is where this narrative begins.
Going into 2019 the front office suggested a wait and see approach that was built on the premise of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano establishing their value. The former looks the part of a star (when healthy), and the latter showed he’s one of the best power hitters in the game. Neither of them was a linchpin in the 101-win season though, and Rocco Baldelli got strong performance by utilizing the full sum of his parts. Buxton and Sano can be key cogs, but the winning was as much alongside them as opposed to being because of them.
Now with an established infrastructure of developmental talent, a big-league roster capable of competing with anyone, and opportunity as abundant as it may ever be, it’s time to follow in the footsteps of recent World Series winners and begin to capitalize on the window.
I’d hardly be shocked if the win total takes a slight step backwards, but the goal is an extended presence into October. Here’s how that happens in 2020:
1. Cron is the odd man out in arbitration deals.
After a nagging thumb injury in 2019, Cron should be all systems go in 2020. He was great before the thumb issue flared up, and I certainly have no problem with the Twins offering him an arbitration deal. Unfortunately, this projection includes a roster crunch, so C.J. becomes the lone arbitration-eligible player to not be tendered a new deal.
2. Make Anthony Rendon the big splash paying him $33 million for eight years.
Last offseason I liked the idea of Josh Donaldson coming to the Twins. He was a former superstar and could be had at a discount. Going home to Georgia he had a very good bounce-back year. With plenty of money to spend, and the top two pitchers likely off the board, the next superstar opportunity is a better one. Anthony Rendon is an MVP-level talent, has been incredibly consistent, and joins one of the best lineups in baseball. I’m not sure Miguel Sano needs to move across the diamond yet, but there’s no reason this isn’t a good enough opportunity for him to do so.
3. Sign Zack Wheeler to a four-year, $72 million contract.
At the top of Minnesota’s impact pitching list should be Zack Wheeler. Hiss secondary numbers are drool-inducing, and he’s already got plenty of velocity for Wes Johnson to work with. Allowing the Twins pitching coach to pull more from the 29-year-old and Baldelli would have a very impressive one-two punch at the top of his rotation.
4. Sign Jake Odorizzi to a three-year, $36 million contract.
The Twins smartly handed Odorizzi a qualifying offer. He could take that and return at $17.8 million which would be just fine. It may also ward off some competition for his services, keeping the bidding on a longer-term deal. Two-years doesn’t seem enticing for the former Rays hurler if the alternative is a gaudy one-year pact, so go three and bolster the middle of the group.
5. Trade Eddie Rosario and Jhoan Duran to the Colorado Rockies for Jon Gray.
Under team control for two more years, the former third overall pick is where I’m setting my sights in a swap for the Minnesota outfielder. Rosario can probably hit a boatload of bombas in the Rockies, while Gray can be expected to build on a career year in 2019. His FIP has suggested there’s more than the ERA has told us for a few years, and while the walks could be reduced, the strikeout stuff is going to play anywhere. At worst you’ve got a number four starter, and the upside is a guy to contend with Wheeler and Jose Berrios at the top. Duran was the main piece in the Eduardo Escobar deal, and he looked impressive during his first full season in the organization.
6. Sign Alex Gordon to a one-year, $2 million contract.
Prioritizing defense is a must for the Twins in 2020. With Eddie Rosario gone, adding another plus-glove into the outfield mix as depth makes a lot of sense. Gordon isn’t the player he once was, but he’s still above average in the field and can play left as often as Marwin Gonzalez is elsewhere. Ideally, I’d like some center field depth, but I’d tell Max Kepler and Jake Cave to be as prepared as possible coming into spring training. Gordon is done with his massive Royals payday, and the $4 million buyout should reduce his 2020 ask as well.
7. Sign Robinson Chirinos to a one-year, $6 million contract.
I’d be fine with Jason Castro returning on this same exact deal, if he’s open to it. Chirinos is an excellent backstop with a strong bat, and seemingly an impressive clubhouse presence. He recently wrapped up a season coming just shy of winning a World Series and could help push Minnesota toward that same exact goal.
8. Sign Drew Pomeranz and Sergio Romo to one-year deals for $3.5 and $3 million.
The former gives Minnesota a second lefty option in the pen, and his former starting experience should allow for some length as well. A reunion with Romo would work in the clubhouse, and his slider is still as devastating as ever. Neither represent earth-shattering pen arms, but this is the easiest avenue toward improvement.
The most prolific power offense in the history of baseball returns in 2020, but with an added boost. Eddie Rosario ends up being dangled to acquire pitching but getting the best position player on the market makes up for that and then some. Rendon’s bat plays, and his glove may be even more important. I like Marwin in the outfield more than on the dirt, and Alex Gordon provides a defense-first bench option that the Twins haven’t had.
Yes, the outfield prospects are close, but there’s still a clear path to playing time, and the Opening Day roster starts in a very good place.
From a pitching perspective it’s a season of change. Odorizzi is back with Berrios, but the impact is felt from outside the organization. Wheeler represents a second bullet for Minnesota to mold into an ace, and he can bolster the top of the staff even if he doesn’t get there. Gray should benefit from leaving the Rockies, and a better organization can most certainly take his stuff up another level.
I struggled with the idea of giving Brusdar Graterol a rotation spot out of the gate. He has never pitched more than 102 innings in a season, is coming off just 61 in 2019, and is still just 21-years-old. Ideally, he starts at Triple-A and settles back into starting. That said, I like his arm a good deal better than any fringe fifth starter, and if Minnesota deems that he beats out the likes of Lewis Thorpe then take off the training wheels.
If there’s a weak spot to this roster it’s the same area 2019 started out with. The relief corps is composed of internally developed arms, which is only a strength if regression is to be denied. Rogers, May, Duffey, and Littell all return as near certainties. Stashak earned himself an opportunity to make the Opening Day roster, and Devin Smeltzer could be a nice long man in relief. Free agents, one returning, complete the group and Pomeranz looks to have some serious upside.
Should the Twins find themselves cycling through arms too often out of the pen, or if there’s a lack of production, relief arms at the deadline are among the most easily acquirable commodities.
When the dust settles this puts the Opening Day payroll at $143.4 million. That’s almost a $30 million jump from 2019, and a step up from the previous high-water mark in 2018 as well. This is the time to build, and this plan leaves the Twins with opportunity to add more in 2021 and puts forth a very strong group to defend their AL Central Division title.
~~~What would your blueprint look like for the Twins this winter? Download your copy of the Offseason Handbook and use it to construct a champion. Share your vision for discussion in our Create a Blueprint forum thread. Meanwhile, stay tuned to TD as our writers will be formulating offseason plans from different perspectives all week long.
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