In my follow-up to the 5 “Under the Radar” Free Agent Pitching Targets blog, I thought it would be fitting to also describe a few key free agent utility players that should come at a bargain.
One of the top priorities of the Twins offseason is to find replacements for utilitymen, Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza - both now free agents.
In 2020, Marwin and Ehire combined to produce .1 fWAR while costing just north of $10.5M in salary, if it were a normal 162 game season.
Injuries to the Twins regular lineup forced Gonzalez and Adrianza to play much more than the Twins would have liked. They appeared in 53 and 44 games, respectively. Gonzalez had a .606 OPS in 199 PA’s while Adrianza produced a .557 OPS in 101 PA’s. Both leaving much to be desired.
For this reason, the Twins have to find a way to upgrade their bench in the event of an (inevitable) injury to a starting infielder. But also because Rocco likes to rest starters frequently. A solid utility player will be useful to mix into the lineup on occasion.
The two players that they add to the roster need to be able to at minimum play 2B, 3B, and SS. Having one of those players that could also play 1B or OF would be a nice bonus and allow for lineup flexibility.
The players below are “value” free agent targets that the Twins could sign to fill one of those needs. Ideally, they would be signed at a low-cost so that the money saved could be applied elsewhere to a payroll that is sure to decrease from 2020.
***Obviously, a player like Kike Hernandez, Jurickson Profar, or Tommy LaStella would be preferred to any of the names on this list. However, signing one of the above names may jeopardize a spot in the lineup elsewhere. Think, “would you rather have Asdrúbal Cabrera and Tyler Clippard for a combined $5M or Kiké Hernandez for $6M?” when going through these names***.
Speaking of Asdrúbal Cabera…
He could be playing for his 5th team since 2018. Once an All-Star SS for the Cleveland Indians from 2011-2012, Cabrera has spent his last season and a half with the Nationals in an everyday utility role. This has mostly been at 3B, 2B, and 1B. No longer an option at SS (last played there full-time in 2016), Cabrera still offers plenty of positional flexibility and is a switch hitter.
Cabrera was basically league average in terms of offensive production in 2019-2020. In a combined 183 games he slashed .254/.331/.443, good for a .774 OPS and also mashed 26 HR’s.
While he is not great defensively at any one position, (combined -10 DRS across 1,400 innings in 2019 and 2020) what Cabrera offers you is positional flexibility at 3 infield spots. He is also a fine player if he has to play every day due to an injury.
Since 2018, he has started:
120 games at 3B
120 games at 2B
25 games at 1B (22 in 2020 alone)
Cabrera could also help the Twins immensely against LHP, which they struggled with in 2020. In 194 PA against southpaws in 2019 & 2020, Cabrera produced a .840 OPS.
Cabrera could be a great veteran option on a one-year deal. He also comes with playoff experience, coming off a 2019 World Series championship with the Nationals.
Fangraphs projects him for a 1.0 fWAR in 2021 and he shouldn’t cost too much more than his $2.5M salary in 2020.
2018 - '20 stats:
A fellow Washington teammate to Cabrera, Kendrick does a lot of the same things.
Howie Kendrick can play 1B, 2B, and 3B, all exactly fine. He had 0 DRS in 2019 across those positions. The Twins were rumored to be interested in trading for him at the 2020 trade deadline. A hamstring injury, however, ended his 2020 season prematurely.
Injuries have always been the question mark for the 37 year old. Kendrick has only played in 100 games once (2019), since 2016. He’s had countless injuries including a torn achilles and a hyper-extended knee.
When in the lineup, he is productive.
In 630 PA since 2018, Kendrick has produced a line of .322/.367/.516. Good for a .883 OPS and 23 HR’s.
He is especially lethal vs LHP where he has posted a 132 wRC+ in 199 PA’s since 2019.
His injury concerns, age, and poor showing in 2020 (.705 OPS in 25 games) all are valid question marks. But, if the Twins can find a way to get near his 2019 level performance, they could have a nice value utilityman.
He should come at a price tag less than the $6.25M he would have earned in 2020 on a one-year deal.
2018 - '20 stats:
Once a SS, definitely not known for his defense in Seattle and Tampa Bay (-36 DRS in 3,300 innings at SS in career), Miller has found a role in the bigs as an “everywhere nowhere man” utilityman. He has played on 5 teams since 2018 and may be looking for his 6th.
He has played all over the diamond.
308 innings at 1B
230 innings at 2B
194 innings at 3B
44 innings at SS
102 innings in LF
2 innings in RF
As a left-handed hitter, he posted an .853 OPS across 341 PA’s in 2019 and 2020 with 20 HR’s. He has been especially effective vs RHP posting a 131 wRC+ across 299 PA’s but borderline unplayable vs LHP only posting a .619 OPS in a small sample size of 42 PA’s.
With two LHH up the middle in Polanco and Arraez, Miller could look to spell Sano or Donaldson on day’s where there is a tough righty on the mound and you need to give those guys a day off. He could also fill in adequately against RHP in case of an injury to Miggy, JD, or Arraez, and in small emergency instances Kirilloff/Cave/Wade in LF.
Fangraphs projects Miller for a 1/$2M salary and a .8 fWar in 2021. Both seem like good value.
2018 - '20 stats:
Villar has played on 4 teams since 2018 (do you sense a theme here?). He’s been an everyday SS/2B his whole career. I almost didn’t put him on this list, but his abysmal 2020 and the pending suppressed free agent market don’t necessarily point to Villar getting a large contract this offseason.
Maybe there is a chance he falls to a team like the Twins on an affordable pillow contract.
In 303 combined games between 2018 and 2019, Villar produced a line of .268/.333/.424 with 38 HR’s and 75 SB - so he has some speed, something the Twins desperately need.
In 2020, he completely imploded. He only slugged .292 in 52 games, producing an OPS south of .600.
Since 2018, he has appeared in:
233 games at 2B
136 games at SS
As a switch hitter, Villar is more effective from the left side vs RHP where he has produced a .767 OPS in 610 PA’s compared to a .709 OPS vs LHP in 311 PA’s.
Villar projects to be the 5th best SS in this year’s FA class behind Semien, Didi, Simmons, and Galvis.
Fangraphs projects Villar for a 1/$6M deal and .9 fWAR which seems like overpayment for what the Twins potentially need. But, like I said, the hope is that he could be brought here on a lesser deal. The other hurdle would be convincing him to play a part-time role vs starting which he’s been doing.
2018 - '20 stats:
In a somewhat surprising move, the Brewers declined Gyorko’s $4.5M club option two weeks ago making him a free agent. Gyorko was the Brewers best hitter in 2020. Twins fans may remember him from that game-tying homer he hit off Taylor Rogers in Milwaukee earlier this year
Gyorko started his career in STL as a 2B but has transitioned into a 3B/1B with the ability to play 2B on a pinch.
In 42 G in 2020, Gyorko produced an .838 OPS with 9 HR’s. A big step forward from his 2019 campaign where he produced an OPS under .500 in 62 games. Overall, Gyorko has been a solid offensive producer. Especially vs LHP where he has slugged .480 with 10 HR’s against them in 110 G’s since 2018.
With the Twins he would give them flexibility at the corners and injury insurance for Donaldson/Sano. He would make some sense to bring in if the Twins didn’t bring back Cruz at DH but instead keep the DH spot open as a revolving door. Then I could see Gyorko getting starts at all three spots.
It’s hard to see him making more than the $4.5M he would have made in this offseason market. He too could make sense on a one-year deal with the Twins.
2018 - '20 stats:
Here are stats featuring the 5 players mentioned in this article plus Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza.
2018 - 2020 stats. Please note the two players at the bottom:
So, that’s it. Here are a few names that I think would make sense as “bargain” utility options. As you can see from the stats above, each player has provided more offensively than Marwin or Ehire.
Honorable mentions: *old friend* Eduardo Nunez, Brock Holt, and Eric Sogard
Are there any names I am missing that you’d like to see the Twins add in free agency?