The Twins have some holes coming into the 2022 season, some question marks, and some big decisions to make. Whilst most offseasons of late seem to have been kind of quiet and at times last-minute in terms of moves, this offseason has the potential to be very busy for us. There is a clear need to upgrade the pitching - having penciled in Ober and Ryan as our only lock starters makes me more than a little anxious - and there is a big gaping hole opening up at shortstop. Where we don’t seem to need to put any money, though, is designated hitter.
Let me get this out of the way - I love Nelson Cruz. What Twins fan doesn’t? For nostalgia’s sake, who wouldn’t love to see Nelly come back for another season at Target Field in ‘22? It would feel good, and we’d have pimp-robes back in the dugout and Miguel Sano would be the happiest man alive. He had a long lasting impact on the clubhouse culture and was an outstanding leader and player. But is it necessary?
We managed the rest of the year without a true DH and we also saw Nelly’s numbers dip a little after he made it to Florida. It’s hard to tell whether he just didn’t feel right in Tampa or whether it was the inevitable beginning of Father Time making up ground and starting to catch up to him. Just looking at the dollars involved, we forked out $13M for Nelson Cruz in 2021 and whilst he was invaluable to us when we expected that we were truly contending, hitting is not the priority any more, not since the pitching staff exploded. The Twins have DH options that involve zero dollar investment above what’s already been committed, enough to rotate the DH through a few players without even thinking - even if we lose one or two as trade bait.
Josh Donaldson - Even though he’s the best defensive 3B we have, and even though he was one of our more productive players in this disastrous 2021 season, he has a storied history of injury to his legs. He can still hit the snot out of a baseball, though, and still shows enough hustle that you trust him hitting for your team. Likely eventual third baseman Jose Miranda looks likely to get a big league callup this season after demolishing the minors, and having Donaldson on the roster while we blood the new guy isn’t a bad idea. He definitely stepped up as a leader after the departure of Cruz, and has repeatedly stated that he’s here to win, and he believes we can win. If the Twins go all in and want to contend next season, I believe Donaldson does need to be on the roster, and it goes double if Cruz isn’t on it. I’ll take him at third or designated hitter just to protect those calves, I’m not fussy.
Miguel Sano - He’s not a great defender, and he’s streakier than a good cut of bacon. We’re well aware that he strikes out a lot. A whole lot. But when he hits the ball, he murders it’s entire bloodline and obliterates it from history (see this shot from August where he murdered a baseball with the longest HR of the year). I’m banking that Kirilloff will be back in action next season and if he picks up right where he left off, he may well play himself into the 1B role regardless of how bad Sano wants it. Kirilloff struck out a little more than Josh Donaldson, a little less than Byron Buxton (and a lot less than Sano), and went out for wrist surgery carrying a higher average than Sano, Kepler and late season hero Nick Gordon. Sano would also find himself a possible (not probable due to aforementioned strikeouts) trade target if the NL adopts the DH as well.
Mitch Garver - I have a lot to say about catchers, and I have already posted about that here, but in my mind, Garver is the best catcher we have because of offense alone. He’s average to good as a catcher, not fantastic. Both Jeffers and Rortvedt have projected defensively better, but their bats are stone cold. That being said, Garver can’t (and shouldn’t) catch every game, and he could easily play a couple at DH to have a low stress day. He was having a good season until an unlucky injury landed him on a surgeon’s table, and was having flashes of that good even being great. I think he’s going to get interest from trade candidates but I like him hanging around.
Brent Rooker - A lot of people like to mention Rooker sliding into the DH role, but his 2021 performance doesn’t paint a promising offensive picture. Baseball Savant has him profiled as a similar batter to Niko Goodrum and Chris Taylor - neither of those guys are superstars either, but they have him beat because they have defensive homes. Rooker would be trying to figure into an already crowded outfield situation and might very well find himself starting the season in St Paul. That isn’t to say he couldn’t fight his way back up, but he’s definitely at the back of the pack when we speak of designated hitters.
Luis Arraez - He certainly seems like the odd man out in a field full of hitters who’ve been known to crack one over the fence. But someone who puts the ball in play like Arraez, particularly against righties, shouldn’t be ignored. He has a phenomenal eye at the plate, with a tight 9.1% strikeout rate over his majors career, and he puts the ball in play with great consistency. He may not be the guy who hits you a walk off homer, but he would definitely put the ball in play for a runner to make their way home, and that’s just as valuable. Add into the mix he’s also jostling for playing time in a roster full of plug and play types (Miranda, Larnach, Gordon, Kirilloff) with admittedly better defensive upsides, and he might see some time at DH while other people are trying to slot into homes or spelling short injured stints for other players.
Now, as I mentioned above, there’s a solid chance a couple of these guys get traded this offseason. Donaldson would be prime candidate if someone was willing to take on his $21M paycheck, Sano is figured to earn $8M which isn’t bad, Garver will get plenty of sniffs since he’s projected to earn just $3M in his final year of arbitration, and Arraez is probably a good candidate to bundle with a prospect given how cloudy his future is becoming. Some of our up and comers could very well spend time in DH as well - if Miranda's bat holds up as well in the bigs as it did in the minors, he'd be a certainty to put in a few appearances there. But even if there is an aggressive trade market coming, I’m confident that we have enough bats around to not have to sign a designated hitter for the 2022 season. I’m not saying a Nelson Cruz reunion wouldn’t be beautiful, but it does seem like an extraneous pressure on the payroll that we could probably do without.