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  1. Absorbing Risk Is Twins Next Decision

    There isn’t a soul within the organization or outside of it that will tell you Minnesota doesn’t need more pitching. Despite his efforts down the stretch, rookie Randy Dobnak in Yankee Stadium during the ALDS was hardly an ideal scenario. That said, the situation isn’t at all as dire as one may assume. From June 1st onward the Twins had the sixth best rotation in baseball, as well as the third best in the American League. That was on top of employing the now departed Kyle Gibson, who posted a 5.26 ERA over that stretch.

    So far this offseason has included the Twins bringing back Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda. The former graciously accepted the $17.8 million qualifying offer, while the latter is being had just south of that same dollar amount over the course of two years. Talking to reporters on Monday, GM Thad Levine said the team needed to be stabilized and “now we have the ability to impact it significantly.” Making sure the foundation is laid is something this front office has carried as a premise throughout their time, but this is the first opportunity to make a substantial impact.

    When looking at the free agent market, there’s scrutiny at every turn. Do you want to bet on Madison Bumgarner holding up despite the mileage? Is Hyun-Jin Ryu going to be any good if he keeps getting hurt? Is Dallas Keuchel really any better than a mid-rotation arm? All of those questions are entirely fair, and they’re being asked because teams must commit substantial sums to players seeking their next opportunity. Unless you want the certainty of the elite, and that comes with the unlikely proposition of outspending (and being more desired) than the big boys, this is the landscape the Twins must traverse.

    On the flip side, you’ve got the trade market. You can bet that the Chicago Cubs would love to have Gleyber Torres right about now, but I’d also assume they’re more than happy to have ended their World Series drought. Detroit probably wishes they’d hit on more for Justin Verlander, and the Pirates are no doubt kicking themselves for the gaffe that was the return for Chris Archer. Win some and lose some there too, but the risk is not much different.

    As Minnesota looks to make moves and additions that significantly impact the major league club, it becomes a chess game of evaluation. Is there enough information on free agents to hand out paydays, and is it detrimental to give up dollars if the deals go sideways? The farm system has both height and depth. Does that make it more enticing to part with a known commodity to acquire something that hasn’t been cast off by a former employer?

    This organization is often chided about spending, or lack thereof. Now with the first legitimate opportunity to do so in quite some time, it comes down to which risk factors are weighed most heavily by Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. The payroll needs to be north of $135 million going into 2020, but there’s more than one avenue to get there. Before the dust settles it will be hard to present an argument for any real hand wringing, but a reflective analysis is certainly going to be on the table.

    At the end of the day we can pick apart what’s on the open market and push toward the trade route. We can also overvalue certain prospects and shy away from making that big move. What we can’t do is operate on both of those levels to the full extent and fail to make a well-timed acquisition solely because of inherent risk. The front office has worked their way into deserved trust, and now they need to cash the check and stand by their decision.

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    • Dec 11 2019 05:12 AM
    • by Ted Schwerzler
  2. Official Twins Winter Meetings Day 2 Thread

    It was a pretty quiet day, but here are some of the Day 1 Discussions:

    Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu

    Shock and Awe were felt by most around baseball when new broke that Stephen Strasburg had an agreement to return to the Washington Nationals for seven years and $245 million. That was believed to be what the Yankees were going to offer Gerrit Cole. Now, we can only imagine what Cole (and Scott Boras) will command for his services .

    But does the Strasburg contract affect what Bumgarner and Ryu will get? In my opinion, it shouldn't, though their agents certainly will try to tie it together. In reality, Bumgarner and Ryu are still more closely connected with Zack Wheeler's five-year, $118 million contract.

    Bumgarner's side let it be known that they are now expecting five years and at least $100 million. That's understandable. The Phillies paid for what they hope Wheeler might become, but certainly hasn't been to this point. Bumgarner has every right to point out that he has actually been an ace in the past, and while that was a few years ago, he's earned a contract similar in length and dollars.

    The Twins are one of about eight to ten teams to express interest in Bumgarner. The White Sox and Reds and Cardinals are among interested teams, and Bumgarner will meet with the Giants this week too.

    It would seem that the Twins are interested in both, but maybe even slightly more interested in Ryu over Bumgarner, potentially because he might command fewer years due to his age.



    But, What About...

    While the teams appear to be focusing on Bumgarner and Ryu, Dallas Keuchel is again a free agent. He's about a year younger than Ryu.

    Would the Twins consider jumping to Dallas Keuchel in an attempt to add a veteran starter of nearly the same ilk? Would Keuchel consider a one-year, $18 million deal (like Hamels did), or could he be available for two-years at $36 million, or even three years and $51 million? After his free agent experience a year ago, could he be interested in signing quickly this offseason?

    As a side advantage to this, Keuchel would not cost the Twins a draft pick.
    Just a thought...



    The Twins could leave one rotation spot for one of their young starters, or they could fill in while Michael Pineda finishes his suspension.




    First Base Internal Options

    When Derek Falvey met with Twin Cities reporters, he said that Brent Rooker and Luke Raley could be first base options in spring training. And Alex Kirilloff is just a step behind them.




    Isn't He Handsome?

    The recently-engaged Rocco Baldelli ranked #1 in the Most Handsome Manager list, via Craig Calcaterra. So he's got that going for him.


    A Romo Return?



    There are several teams interested in Sergio Romo. He really helped stabilize the Twins bullpen after he was acquired from the Marlins at the July deadline. His slider generally proved really good. He won't cost much, so I don't think that it would be spendy to add him. The only concern is the 87 mph fastball and the home run ball. He's been successful, but he can be nerve-wracking.

    Seems Romo is the only reliever that the Twins have been linked to in any way. One would think they might have interest in at adding at least one more veteran type. Then again, there have not been a lot of free agent reliever rumors to this point either. We haven't heard rumors regarding the likes of Will Harris or Daniel Hudson or Dellin Betances.


    The Return of Wilfredo

    According to reports, the Twins have signed infielder Wilfredo Tovar. He played nine games for the Mets in 2013-14 and returned to the big leagues for 31 games with the Angels in 2019. The 28-year-old played in 125 games for the Rochester Red Wings in 2016.


    So there are some topics to get the Day 2 conversation started. Will there be more Twins rumors? Will there be any signings by the Twins? Will Tuesday be the day Gerrit Cole picks a team?

    • Dec 10 2019 10:06 AM
    • by Seth Stohs
  3. Jose Berrios Has Tough Road to First Gold Glove

    The American League award for pitchers has been dominated by Dallas Keuchel since 2014 with him winning four of the last five years. Marcus Stroman took home the award back in 2017 to break-up the Keuchel three-year run. Both of those pitchers are in the National League now and this means there will be a first-time winner in the AL.

    Berrios will be facing off against Chicago’s Lucas Giolito and Seattle’s Mike Leake. Both of these players rank better than him according to SABR’s Defensive Index. According to SABR, the SDI will be used to help select the winners for the seventh consecutive year and it accounts for approximately 25 percent of the selection process. In the last SDI update, Leake led all AL pitchers with a 2.2 SDI, while Giolito (1.0 SDI) came in tied for third. Out of qualifying pitchers, Berrios ranked second to last with a -1.5 SDI.

    Ranking defenders can be a tough endeavor even in the Statcast era and ranking pitchers can be an even more challenging. In the AL, the league fielding percentage for pitchers was .945 and Berrios was well above that mark with a .969 fielding percentage. Giolito wasn’t charged with an error all season and finished with a perfect fielding percentage. Leake ended the year in the NL, but he accumulated a .966 fielding percentage in his AL appearances.

    Another important defensive skill for pitchers is the ability to hold runners, but some of this stat is on the catcher too. In the AL, the league caught stealing percentage was 27% for the season. Giolito allowed three stolen bases and had three runners caught for a 50% caught stealing %. Leake had a slightly higher caught stealing percentage (56%) as he allowed five steals and four stolen bases. Berrios had the worst mark by far (8 CS%) as he allowed 12 steals and only had one caught steal.

    Defensive runs saved is another common defensive metric. Again, Berrios ranks at the bottom when compared to the other two finalists. Leake was worth three defensive runs saved during his time in the AL and Giolito was also able to collect three defensive runs saved. Berrios was worth zero defensive runs saved, his lowest total since he had a negative defensive runs saved in 2017.

    It seems like there are multiple metrics that put Giolito and Leake ahead of Berrios. Historically, that might not always matter when it comes to voting for the Gold Glove Awards. Brian Dozier was a surprise winner for the Twins back in 2017 when he beat out Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia.

    Could Berrios surprise and win in 2019? It might not be likely, but there’s always a chance.

    • Oct 30 2019 05:50 AM
    • by Cody Christie
  4. Will Minnesota Be a Fit for Craig Kimbrel or Dallas Keuchel?

    Minnesota’s Changing Perspective
    Before spring training started, Minnesota wasn’t exactly sure of what this season would bring. The front office was happy with the additions of players like Nelson Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez, CJ Cron, and Martin Perez. However, it was tough to know if the Twins were going to be able to outlast Cleveland in a division the Indians have dominated for the last three seasons.

    Flash-forward to the present and Minnesota has a very clear view of the division and of their current roster. The Twins entered play on Saturday atop of the AL Central by 10.5 games. Cleveland, the division favorite this spring, sits tied with the White Sox for second place and they are actually closer to the bottom of the division than the top of the division.

    Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have also seen the strengths and weaknesses of the current roster. Minnesota offense is one of the best in the game. There doesn’t seem to be a weak spot from the top to the bottom. On the pitching side, Minnesota’s has outperformed many of the expectations entering the season but Kimbrel or Keuchel would certainly be welcomed in the Twin Cities.

    Minnesota Rumors
    Locally, Judd Zulgad of SKOR North said the Twins could be in on one of the pitchers once draft pick compensation was no longer part of the equation. Kimbrel might be a better fit in Minnesota even though he’s coming off a postseason where he had a 5.91 ERA in nine appearances. He has over 330 career saves and an ERA under 2.00.

    It remains to be seen if Kimbrel would be willing to accept a non-closer role on a playoff contending team. Minnesota hasn’t used a traditional closer this year and they may not want to mess with a good thing. There are also questions about how long it will take for either pitcher to be prepared for pitching in a big-league game.

    MLB Network’s Jon Heyman also listed the Twins as a possible destination for Keuchel. He also included other teams like the Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, Rays and Yankees. Last season in Houston, Keuchel made 34 stars and went 12-11 with a 3.74 ERA. Scouts have been watching Keuchel throw simulated games in the weeks leading up to the draft.



    Other Rumors
    As recently as Saturday, Ken Rosenthal reported that the Cubs are showing interest in Kimbrel. One of the difficulties for them is their lack of payroll flexibility, because Chicago wants to stay under the luxury tax thresholds. Other teams might be able to outbid the Cubs or Chicago would need to get creative with Kimbrel’s contract.

    Jim Bowden of SiriusXM reports that the Braves have legitimate interest in both free agent pitchers. Atlanta currently sits in second place in the AL East and they are tied with San Diego for the second Wild Card spot.

    Tampa Bay, Minnesota’s opponent this weekend, is also interested in adding Keuchel or Kimbrel. Ken Rosenthal and Josh Tolentino report the Yankees remain interested in Keuchel. The AL East can be a beast especially with the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays all vying to be the king of the hill. Kimbrel is well familiar with the AL East, and he might want a revenge tour against Boston. Tampa is usually a little strapped for cash, so this might not be the best fit.

    Do you see either pitcher ending up in a Twins uniform this week? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

    • Jun 01 2019 12:26 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  5. Twins Unlikely to Sign Kimbrel, Keuchel — Wait, This Sounds Familiar!

    It’s important to keep in mind that every situation is different, but I still think there’s some value in looking back at how the Lynn contract came to be and compare that to where things are with this year’s market. I’m not saying any of this means the Twins are going to sign Kimbrel or Keuchel, but as long as they’re out there on the market it’s a possibility.

    One more disclaimer, sharing these reports that ultimately turned out to be untrue isn’t intended to be a jab at the reporters mentioned. They were simply relaying the information that was brought to them at that time from credible sources. Their reports were accurate to the situation in that snapshot in time. It’s clear things changed very quickly at some point, actually right around this time, last year.

    Here’s a look back at how things developed through the rumor mill.

    Feb. 28, 2018
    Mike Berardino Tweets that the Twins, who are just a few weeks removed from a strong pursuit of Yu Darvish, are likely done adding.



    March 2, 2018
    Jim Bowden of The Athletic reports Lynn’s asking price is north of $50 million, a mark no team is currently willing to entertain.


    March 4, 208
    Bowden’s sources tell him the Twins are unlikely to sign Lynn or any of the other top starters available.


    March 6, 2018
    Berardino writes that a person with direct knowledge said a $20 million commitment was a non-starter for Lynn.
    [attachment=12297:Berardino.png]
    March 12, 2018
    Lance Lynn signs a one-year, $12 million deal with the Twins.


    I’m sure there were additional reports I missed, but you get the drift. As we learned with Lynn last year, things can change incredibly quickly.

    That lesson can obviously apply to other teams, as well. Bowden Tweeted Friday evening that the Nationals and Braves were “not in” on Kimbrel according to multiple sources. That would certainly make it appear the Twins have a better chance at swooping in at the midnight hour to sign him, but (again) things can change very quickly. If Kimbrel’s expectations are lowered, I’d imagine there’s a point at which the Nats and Braves would be very much in on him.

    Dan Hayes, also of The Athletic, passed this along shortly after Bowden's Tweet:


    Wouldn’t say no 100 percent? So you’re telling me there’s a chance!

    But seriously, Dan would know. To his credit, he’s already done a lot of the leg work in trying to find a scenario in which Kimbrel could land in Minnesota. Back in late January, he wrote a thorough 1,300-word piece over at The Athletic on the topic. He’s been painting the possibility of Kimbrel signing with the Twins as a long shot, but he did end that article attached above with this sentence: “As unlikely as it seems, if all those market conditions fell their way, the Twins could just wind up with Kimbrel.”

    This past Monday, La Velle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune wrote that “it would take a major change of events for the Twins to sign either pitcher [Kimbrel or Keuchel] and bring him into a training camp that started three weeks ago.” And added this: “I got the sense that, unless Keuchel or Kimbrel were willing to sign a one-year contract, there's no deal here.”

    A one-year contract you say? Hmm …

    While it does not appear likely that either Kimbrel or Keuchel will be in a Twins uniform this season it also doesn’t really seem like either of those guys is likely to be in any particular team’s uniform this season. There doesn’t appear to be a front-runner or obvious destination for either of them at this point.

    We’ve seen this movie. Our guys came out on top with contract in hand when the dust settled. Things didn’t work out exactly as intended, which was unfortunate, but they have this move in their playbook. Is it possible there was something they learned from last year that they can apply and ensure a smoother transition into the regular season for a late signing?

    All I’m saying is anything’s possible.

    Here are a couple more links if you’re interested in some further reading. MLB Trade Rumors featured both of these pitchers Friday.

    Let’s Find A Landing Spot For Craig Kimbrel
    Historical Market Price Points For Dallas Keuchel

    • Mar 09 2019 01:25 PM
    • by Tom Froemming
  6. Still Free: LHP Dallas Keuchel

    Should the Twins be interested in signing free agent lefty Dallas Keuchel? What factors should go into that decision?

    What Should The Front Office Like

    When healthy, innings pitched:

    Three times in the last five years, Keuchel has made at least 29 starts and threw at least 200 innings.

    Control/Command:

    Keuchel has pitched in seven major-league seasons. He has typically not hurt himself by issuing walks. In his past six seasons, he has walked no more than 3.0 batters per nine innings and averaged just 2.5 walks per nine innings.

    2015 Cy Young

    In 2015, Keuchel went 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA. He received 22 of the 30 first-place votes for AL Cy Young Award. He also pitched in a career-high 232 innings.

    Four Gold Gloves

    Keuchel also fields his position well. He has been awarded the American League Gold Glove in four of the last five seasons. Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson are both very good athletes who field their position well.

    What Should Scare The Front Office

    Already 31

    Keuchel turned 31 years old on January 1st. On its own, that is not a big deal. However, it would certainly be a deterrent to a four or five year deal.

    Lack of Velocity

    Keuchel rarely touches 90 mph with his fastball. But as you can see from the chart below, it’s not like his velocity has diminished. He has never thrown hard.



    Health

    I have already and will again write the all-important phrase “if healthy.” That’s obviously an unknown and can’t be predicted with exact science (yet?). But Keuchel has had a variety of issues physically. He acknowledged after the 2016 season that he fought shoulder pain the whole year. He had a minor foot injury that cost him some time. He also had a neck injury.

    Draft Pick Compensation

    The Astros made a Qualifying Offer to Keuchel, so the team that signs him will have to give up a draft pick.


    What Signing Him Would Do For the Twins

    There is little question that, assuming Keuchel is healthy, he would improve the Twins rotation. Essentially Keuchel would take a spot in the Twins rotation and either Martin Perez or Michael Pineda would be moved to the bullpen.

    That’s not to say that Keuchel would fit in as the Twins fifth starter. But I also think it’s important to realize that he is not an ace, by any means. He would be a 2/3 in the Twins rotation. His 2018 numbers were very similar to those of Kyle Gibson. Again, assuming health, that would give the Twins a pretty solid 1-2-3 in their rotation for a potential playoff rotation with Odorizzi, Pineda and Perez (and all that minor league depth) getting their opportunities.


    Length of Ideal Contract

    To be honest, I would prefer a one-year deal between the Twins and Keuchel. Frankly, the (lack of) velocity scares me. If he loses another tick or two in velocity or if he loses even a little bit of command, his productivity could drop dramatically, and quickly.

    However, if he’s going to sign just a one-year deal, why wouldn’t he return to the Astros? Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are their top two starters. They added Wade Miley this offseason via free agency. Top prospect Forrest Whitley is likely close. Lance McCullers will miss the full season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock could return to their rotation as well.

    Would you be willing to give Keuchel a second year? I probably would, especially because the Twins don’t have a lot of funds tied up on 2020 yet. But a third year? No, thank you. And a fourth year? Just no.


    Why Might Keuchel Have Interest in the Twins

    Keuchel has won and experienced a lot of success. He will want to be part of a team that has a chance to compete for a playoff spot. The Twins certainly fit that category. Keuchel certainly has seen the moves that the Twins have made this offseason. They added Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, CJ Cron and Keuchel’s long-time teammate Marwin Gonzalez. The lineup also includes several mid-20s players who he knows have the potential to add even more offense.

    Keuchel’s best years came with Jason Castro as his catcher in Houston. He also has to look at the Twins outfield and know that hits turn into outs, especially when Byron Buxton is out there.

    Like Marwin Gonzalez, Dallas Keuchel is represented by Scott Boras. Boras and the Twins front office seem to have a solid working relationship, and top prospects Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff are also Boras clients.


    What Would be a Reasonable Offer at this Point

    So, with all of that in mind, I think the following offers would be fair:

    Ideally, I would prefer a one-year, make-good contract. One year, $16 million.

    I would guess that Boras and Keuchel would like to get a second guaranteed season (and probably a third and fourth too), again, similar to the Gonzalez contract. So how about Two Years, $30 million deal?


    Summary

    As you read earlier in the week, LaVelle Neal wrote that the Twins will not sign Keuchel (or Kimbrel) unless something drastic changes. There are enough red flags around Keuchel that the Twins (and clearly most MLB teams) have shied away. Personally, I agree with that assessment.

    For a guy who rarely touches 90 mph with his fastball, Dallas Keuchel has put together a really strong free agent resume with his work in Houston the past six seasons. However, some of his peripheral numbers, understandably, could give teams reason for pause. Clearly they have.

    The Twins are currently about $12 million below where they started the 2018 season, so the proposed deals above would put them just over those numbers.

    The front office has to ask themselves which they prefer:
    • A 31 year old lefty with no velocity but a great track record of success.
    • A 27 year old lefty who is hitting 95-97 mph this spring but whose numbers have never matched his stuff.
    Note that if the Twins signed Keuchel, Perez wouldn’t be lost, just moved to the bullpen.

    What makes sense to you?

    • Mar 07 2019 06:46 AM
    • by Seth Stohs
  7. Mailbag: Available Pitchers, Buxton Hype, Baseball Time Machine


    Last year, the Twins signed players late into the spring as free agents were still available. Last week the club added Marwin Gonzalez, which might have seemed like a stretch at the beginning of the off-season. Instead, he was available and fell into the Twins laps. This is a phrase that has been thrown out multiple times by the front office. So… could a pitcher fall into the team’s lap?

    Dallas Keuchel was the top free agent starter on the market, and he has yet to sign. As a 31-year old, he is coming off a year where he posted a 3.74 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP in 204.2 innings. It seems logical that plenty of teams would be interested in his services. My guess is he ends up back in Houston to solidify their rotation.

    That being said, it sounds like he was good friends with Gonzales during their time in Houston. Maybe a reunion could be in the works. The Minneapolis Star Tribune doesn’t believe Keuchel will be coming to Minnesota. It seems most likely for the team to start the season with the current pitchers on the roster.


    Gio Gonzalez does little to excite me as a free agent. Last year as a 32-year old, he posted a 4.21 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP in 171.0 innings. He could be a nice veteran presence at the back of the rotation, but I’d rather give those innings to a younger arm. Minnesota will start the year with Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Michael Pineda, and Jake Odorizzi occupying the top four spots in the rotation. Innings that could be allotted to Gonzalez should go to the likes of Martin Perez, Adalberto Mejia, Kohl Stewart, and Stephen Gonsalves.


    Even with the strong reports about Stephen Gonsalves, I doubt there is any way he makes the team out of spring training. The early weeks of the season are full of extra off-days and Minnesota will likely have some weather delays, sine the Home Opener is scheduled before the calendar turns to April. With that in mind, the club won’t need a fifth starter near the beginning of the year. This allows the team to carry an extra bullpen arm or an extra bat for the bench.

    Without an injury to one of the top starters, there is almost no chance Gonsalves breaks camp with the club. He will start the year in Rochester and be only a phone call away.


    I would love to buy into all of the Byron Buxton spring training hype. Unfortunately, spring training numbers mean little for the regular season. It’s great for his confidence to be finding consistent success, but fans haven’t seen him put it all together at the big-league level. Until he can do it consistently with the Twins, there will be a lot of fans that wonder if the Twins made the right choice with Buxton.

    However, many fans were disappointed with Joe Mauer for the majority of his career and he could end up being a Hall of Fame player. Earlier this off-season, I identified Buxton’s emergence as one of the keys to 2019. I still believe that to be true. He could end up being an All-Star. He could end up struggling. It seems more likely that he falls somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.


    This question took me the longest because of all of the options. Some of the options that popped into my head were Kirby Puckett’s eye injury, Justin Morneau’s concussions, and Joe Mauer’s concussions. All three of these injuries deprived Twins Territory of some tremendous years of Hall of Fame caliber baseball.

    My answer might be a little off the beaten path, but I am going to say Francisco Liriano’s Tommy John surgery in 2006. I fully believe the Twins could have won the World Series that season had Liriano stayed healthy. No team was going to beat Liriano and Johan Santana multiple times in the same series. It might have been one of the most dominant one-two punches in playoff history.

    I think Liriano’s arm injury deprived the Twins organization of their third World Series title.


    I think the Twins have made it clear this off-season. They don’t want to be known as the club that battles their tails off. They want to hit home runs and they want to hit a lot of home runs. Minnesota’s 2019 roster is going to hit the ball over the fence and the club is going to strike out a lot. This might be good and it might be bad, but it’s a far cry from the Nick Punto days back in the Metrodome.

    Thanks to all of those that submitted questions this week. Leave a COMMENT with your own answers to all of these questions.

    • Mar 04 2019 02:42 PM
    • by Cody Christie
  8. Spending the Twins' Excess Cash

    Payroll 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.

    • Jan 10 2019 09:13 AM
    • by Ted Schwerzler
  9. KARE-11's Cory Hepola Discusses The Astros

    Perham (MN) native Cory Hepola has worked in several markets around the country. One of his first jobs was as a sports anchor at WROC-TV in Rochester, New York. It was back in the days when Trevor Plouffe and Danny Valencia played for the Red Wings.

    Recently, Cory was kind enough to spend some time answering our questions about the development of the Astros, who he covered from 2012-2014.



    Twins Daily (TD): In your three years working in sports in Houston, what was the general feeling in and around the team, the organization and the fans?


    Cory Hepola (CH): I was around the Astros from 2012-2014, so essentially, the worst years in franchise history. People weren't talking about them; they were completely off the radar. But, at CSN Houston, we all felt very strongly that Jeff Luhnow had a unique, forward-thinking vision. He's brilliant and we knew they'd be much better starting in 2015. He's done an excellent job of adding free agents around their core nucleus of young talent.



    TD: But things were kind of coming into place as some young players were getting their first opportunities. For instance, Jose Altuve was a rookie and getting playing time. What were your thoughts on him at the time, and are you surprised by what he's become?


    CH: Jose Altuve is one of the best stories in baseball. Tried out at an open camp in Venezuela and was cut because he was too short. Came back the next year and was signed, for cheap. I think that experience has given him perspective; he knows what it's like to be cut or to be told you're not good enough, and it drives him. In 2014 - I watched him every day in awe. He hit over .340 and stole 56 bags. Honestly, I remember Mike Stanton (my CSN analyst) saying he could get even better and I secretly rolled my eyes. No way. But, since then he's added power, raising his OPS by over 100 points. He hits everything hard and is terrific at 2B.



    TD: Also, Dallas Keuchel has won a Cy Young since then, but what were your thoughts on him when he first came up?


    CH: I interviewed Dallas Keuchel at spring training in 2014. He was coming off a couple of years where he really struggled as a starter and in the bullpen. At that point, Keuchel was just hoping to make the team. He told me he wanted that fifth starter spot, but would be fine as a long reliever. But, Brent Strom came in as the Astros new pitching coach that year and he REALLY helped Keuchel develop and control his slider, which turned him into a superstar. It just shows you don't have to throw 100 MPH, just control it.



    TD: I believe you noted that George Springer had just been called up too. He was the Astros player on the now-popular Sports Illustrated cover that said the Astros would be the 2017 World Series champion. What were your thoughts on Springer, who has now become an All Star too?


    CH: We couldn't wait for Springer to get called up in 2014. We knew he would be an instant impact player with his speed in center field & his power, but there were concerns about his strikeouts. He brought an instant energy to the clubhouse and is one of the leaders there.



    TD: In 2012, the Astros had the number one overall pick. At the time, they surprised teams by taking shortstop Carlos Correa out of Puerto Rico. You had the opportunity to interview him after the draft. What were your thoughts on him at the time and now that he's become a star?


    CH: In 2013, we would look up Correa and Buxton's stats - and compare them - every night while watching the Astros game! I met Correa at spring training in 2014 and knew he was going to be a superstar. He was 19 and already had that "IT" factor. Wasn't intimidated, wasn't cocky, but was mature and confident in who he was and where he as going. He told me: in the offseason, he went back to Puerto Rico to work with his Dad on his house. He didn't spend much of his signing bonus because - as he told me - he hadn't proven anything yet. He was the first one at the facility every day and the last one to leave. He reminded me of a young Alex Rodriguez, to be honest, because of his size and maturity at such a young age.



    TD: Any other memories or personnel from your time in Houston, covering the Astros?


    CH: It's so fun to see the Astros in the World Series because of where they were at a few years ago, although I do miss our great team at CSN Houston. I wish we could've been a part of this, watching these guys earn this incredible ride. Also, Art Howe - who was one of our analysts - is an absolute saint. Don't believe the "Moneyball" narrative. I learned so much from watching baseball with Art and he is one of the most genuine, caring people I know.



    TD: Do you see any comparison between those 2012-2014 Astros teams you covered and the Twins rosters since you've moved back to Minnesota?


    CH: Yes, I do see some similarities with how the Astros constructed their plan and the Twins. I expect to see the Twins now start to add a few helpful free agents here and there as this new front office has been able to evaluate the players in their system, who they like, who they want to keep and where. I met Derek Falvey in May and was blown away - not only by his baseball knowledge - but his leadership skills. Not many 34-year-olds understand what drives people to succeed, but I believe he does.



    TD: Astros-Dodgers... what's your prediction for the World Series?


    CH: Man, it's hard not to like the Dodgers, but I'll go with the Astros because I'd love to see the city of Houston win it all!



    A big Thank you to Cory Hepola for taking time out of his incredibly busy schedule to answer some of our questions about the Houston Astros as they play Game 1 of World Series tonight.

    Be sure to follow Cory on Twitter at @CoryHepola, and tune in to KARE-11 news at 5, 6 and 10 on Saturdays and Sundays.

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    As an aside, I’ve known Cory and his family for probably 30 years. I happened to coach him in Little League and Babe Ruth as he was growing up in Perham. I like to tell him that he was ahead of the curve on analytics, understanding the value of getting on base. He knew the strike zone like few others at those ages. He also played a really good first base, able to scoop up almost anything. Basketball was his big sport in high school, but it’s fun for me to see him succeeding in a career that he’s been dreaming about for so long.

    I’ll close this article with Cory's story of meeting his kindergarten teacher that pulled at a lot of heart strings across the country.


    • Oct 24 2017 04:44 AM
    • by Seth Stohs