The Joey Gallo signing makes sense, actually
Go ahead, give me your hokey analytics about "Joey Gallo only hits .200," "There are now 5 lefty corner outfielders on this team," and "Joey Gallo has the highest K rate of all time." Well guess what nerds, I care about the stallion in the Italian, not what his "box score" may look like.
Jokes aside, although not a world-moving acquisition, I think that it makes some sense, though it broke at an unfortunate time--two days after Correa signed with San Francisco and one day after Carlos Rodón signed with New York. Certainly, if the Twins' biggest signing this offseason is Joey Gallo, fans have reason to be upset. I do follow the offseason move-to-move and react to each move, but I am not one to put the label OFFSEASON FAILED on a team until the season begins and the Opening Day roster is finalized.
First, though, let's cover the negatives. Gallo had a horrendous season last year, with a slash line of .160/.280/.357. If he performs like that again in 2023, he will likely be out of the league. He strikes out way too much and has a laughably low batting average, and that can only be expected to continue without an approach change. Players' bat-to-ball skills do not improve with age, and Gallo will enter 2023 as a 29-year-old. Furthermore, Gallo enters a crowded space of left-handed corner outfielders alongside Max Kepler, Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, Nick Gordon, and Matt Wallner. Of all the player types the Twins could have pursued, they got a guy who plays at their arguably deepest position.
With those strikes against him, why don't I mind the signing? There are a few reasons:
The corner depth is hypothetical
Yes, there is a glut of corner outfield depth on this roster, and they are all lefties (with the exception of Gilberto Celestino, who is a corner guy in name only, given his poor stick). However, let's go through those options. Even before the Gallo signing, Kepler was going to be moved. Even if he didn't already have one foot out the door, it's debatable that Kepler would be better than Gallo. Both have high floors, given their defensive ability, but Kepler, outside of 2019, has not shown the chops to be anything better than a league average hitter. Gallo, on the other hand, has shown the ability to hit at an all-star level as recently as 2021.
After Kepler, the top two guys are Kirilloff and Larnach, neither of which have proven much of anything between 2021 and 2022. Both have shown flashes of potential to be high-level hitters, and I still believe in them, but both have also been bogged down by significant injuries. Gordon was on the shortlist to be DFAed during the 2022 season prior to his development as a top hitter in the depleted Twins lineup in 2022, but his performance was bolstered by a high BAPIP and he is more suited as a utility player than an everyday left fielder or the strong side of a platoon. Wallner impressed last season at both AA and AAA and had a solid run after his late season callup, but that's all the major league experience that he has.
Between the four of them, they have 1,584 MLB plate appearances combined, the equivalent of about three seasons as an everyday player. If the Twins started the season without Kepler or another corner outfield acquisition, they would start with Kirilloff in left and Larnach in right, and if either of them got injured, which is likely given their history, Gordon would be pushed into an everyday role, and Wallner would probably be up as a fourth outfielder. I think that they can all ball, but that's a thin group to enter the season with.
I do believe that there is another righty bat coming the Twins way (Jurickson Profar is the guy I want to see now), and I can be convinced that it's not the end of the world for either Larnach or Kirilloff to start the season in AAA, given that neither is a sure thing.
Joey Gallo can reasonably become Joey Gallo again
In terms of buy-low hitters, Gallo probably has the highest ceiling outside of Cody Bellinger and his 17.5MM contract with a 12MM mutant option for 2024. When Gallo is playing at the form he's capable of, he can get on-base 35% of the time despite his astronomical strikeout rate and low batting average because of his astronomical walk rate (13% for his career). He can bop 30+ homers, with two 40 home run seasons to his name. He can play Gold Glove defense in right field.
Obviously, there's a lot of ifs in this conversation, but it's better to take a shot at a guy like Gallo than to fill a spot with a low-ceiling Trey Mancini, AJ Pollack, or Adam Frazier type of player for the same money. If you're going to give out a one-year contract to a veteran, give it to someone who is one year removed from an All Star season and is still under 30.
If the Twins and Gallo are fortunate and he makes good on his prove-it deal, he will likely be up for a big payday prior to the 2024 season. The Twins would love to watch him go. It would mean that he turned in a good year for the team, helping them contend for an AL Central title. However, there is an added bonus that only schmucks like me care about. Because he performed poorly in his final arbitration year (and was traded in-season), he did not receive a qualifying offer and is eligible for one in 2024. If he puts up a Gallo-esque season with a 125 OPS+, 35 homers, and great right field defense, he would likely decline the offer, giving the Twins an extra draft pick for 2024. I for one would like to see that happen.
Gallo is a great right fielder, due to his solid range and great arm. He also has experience at all three outfield positions, first base, and third base. I don't see Gallo ever returning to the hot corner.
However, we all know that the Twins love themselves some position flexibility. The only alignment that would make sense to put Gallo at first base would be three of Byron Buxton, Gordon, Larnach, and Celestino being in the game alongside Gallo, as they would likely prefer Kirilloff and Wallner at first over him. Still, the option is there.
More importantly is his ability to fill in in centerfield. He has not played there much since 2019, partially due to the personnel of the teams he was on. He didn't look bad in his work in center, though it has been 4 years since he had significant time out there. That being said, he would provide an extra layer of security for centerfield, which is important given Buxton's injury history.
Is he a long-term replacement candidate if Buxton misses extended time with injury? Probably not, but I would bet that he will end up playing more centerfield this year than Max Kepler, another top defensive right fielder with the ability to play center, did last year (9 innings across 3 games). I wrote about the importance of having a third centerfielder and keeping Celestino down in AAA for the sake of the team and the player a couple weeks ago. Gallo fits the bill there.
It's only 11 million for one year
The cat was out of the bag by the time Gallo signed: the Twins do not plan on devoting 25MM+ to any one player this offseason. With 50MM to spend to reach last year's payroll, it's not a terrible use of 11MM. If he hits .160 through May and Wallner is killing it at AAA, I don't think the Twins will sweat the lost pay. He can easily be cut at that level.
All of this is incumbent on him hitting at least .200, but that's a given.