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  • What Would the Ideal Offseason Have Looked Like for the Minnesota Twins?


    Matthew Taylor

    There is no denying that the 2021 offseason for the Minnesota Twins went about as poorly as possible. Knowing what we know now, though, what would the ideal offseason have looked like for the Twins?

    Image courtesy of © John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

    This offseason, the Minnesota Twins made six free agent signings and all of them (save for Nelson Cruz) blew up in their faces. The Minnesota Twins front office misfired badly and the losing season they are going through is the result. But what if things played out differently?

    In a “hindsight is 20/20” thought exercise, let’s play out what the ideal version of the 2021 offseason would have looked like for the Minnesota Twins and see how the Twins front office could have best spent their offseason dollars.

    In this thought exercise I am giving the Minnesota Twins the same budget as they spent in their actual offseason, which was approximately $41.75M. Additionally in this exercise, the Twins’ “ideal” offseason signings will need to be signed at a 20% increase over what they actually signed for in the offseason. This 20% increase would account for the the Twins prying away the players from the teams they actually signed with, making this a more realistic scenario of what could have been.

    Are “what if” games pointless as they have no bearing in reality? Probably. Are they fun? You bet they are! So let’s run through these...

    Designated Hitter
    Actual Offseason signing: Nelson Cruz - 1 year, $13MM
    Ideal Offseason signing: Nelson Cruz - 1 year, $13MM

    The only of the six offseason signings from the Twins’ offseason that they would redo in our ideal version would be bringing back Nelson Cruz on a 1 year, $13MM deal. In his 214 plate appearances with the Minnesota Twins this season, Cruz posted a .907 OPS, which led the team and was third-best in baseball after Shohei Ohtani and J.D. Martinez. The Twins had a clear need at designated hitter and opted to fill that slot with Cruz which was the right choice, which is why the Twins would make that same move again, if they knew then what they know now.

    Middle Infield
    Actual offseason signing: Andrelton Simmons - 1 year, $10.5MM
    Ideal Offseason signing: Kolten Wong - 2 year, $21.6MM

    After Nelson Cruz, the Andrelton Simmons signing was the largest investment that the Minnesota Twins made last offseason. The thought was that Simmons’ bat would play well enough and that his glove would completely transform the team. While his glove has been solid (though not spectacular), Simmons is having one of the worst offensive seasons in team history, with his OPS of .565. In our ideal offseason, the Minnesota Twins would have signed Kolten Wong for a 2 year, $21.6MM contract. Wong has been excellent with the Milwaukee Brewers this year and owns a .810 OPS. Wong is only 30-years-old and would be under contract again for the Twins next season. Wong plays second base, which means the Twins would’ve needed to keep Jorge Polanco at shortstop under these circumstances, but at 2.7 fWAR compared to Simmons’s -0.3, signing Wong over Andrelton would’ve made a big difference for the Twins. 

    Starting Pitcher
    Actual offseason signing: J.A. Happ - 1 year, $8MM
    Ideal Offseason signing: Robbie Ray - 1 year, $9.6MM

    The Minnesota Twins signed J.A. Happ last offseason hoping that he could fill the fourth starter role for the Twins in 2022. Instead, Happ completely imploded for Minnesota, posting a 6.77 ERA in 19 starts. What makes the Happ signing hurt even more for the Twins is that southpaw Robbie Ray signed with the Toronto Blue Jays for the identical 1 year, $8MM deal that J.A. Happ signed for. Under this exercise, the Twins would’ve needed to pay a 20% premium to guarantee Ray’s services, but for a 1 year, $9.6MM the Twins could have signed Ray who has a 2.71 ERA on the season and just became the all-time leader in K/9 in MLB history.

    Starting Pitcher
    Actual offseason signing: Matt Shoemaker - 1 year, $2MM
    Ideal Offseason signing: Carlos Rodón - 1 year, $3.6MM

    While J.A. Happ pitched terribly for the Minnesota Twins during his tenure here, Matt Shoemaker was even worse. In 16 appearances with the Twins, Shoemaker posted a 8.06 ERA and was worth -0.7 fWAR before getting DFA’d and ultimately released. At a 20% premium, the Minnesota Twins could have signed Carlos Rodón for just $3.6MM and gotten a pitcher who has been a revolution for the White Sox this year, with a 2.43 ERA and a 12.8 K/9. 

    Relief Pitcher
    Actual offseason signing: Alexander Colomé - 1 year, $6.25MM
    Ideal Offseason signing: Sergio Romo - 1 year, $3MM

    Moving to the bullpen, Alexander Colomé was yet another disastrous signing for the Minnesota Twins this offseason, as he has a 4.26 ERA, six blown saves and the worst win probability added on the team. In their ideal offseason, the Minnesota Twins would have simply brought back Sergio Romo, who they let walk last offseason, for half of the price of Colomé. Romo has put together a 3.18 ERA in 54 appearances with the Oakland Athletics and has thrived there in a high-leverage role.

    Relief Pitcher
    Actual offseason signing: Hansel Robles - 1 year, $2MM
    Ideal Offseason signing: Collin McCugh - 1 year, $2.16MM

    Finally, in their ideal offseason the Minnesota Twins would have avoided Hansel Robles and his 4.91 ERA in Minnesota in favor of Collin McHugh for nearly the same price tag. McHugh signed with Tampa Bay this offseason and has been spectacular, featuring a 1.40 ERA and 11.6 K/9. 

    Overall let’s compare the actual offseason for the Minnesota Twins to what the ideal offseason would have looked like:

    Actual offseason $ spent: $41.75MM
    Ideal offseason $ spent: $42.16MM

    Actual offseason fWAR acquired (with Twins): 0.2 fWAR
    Ideal offseason fWAR acquired: 14.4 fWAR

    Again, hindsight is always 20/20 and ideal history is always going to be an unfair game to play, but laying out what the ideal offseason for the Twins would have looked like is not only fun, but interesting to look at the types of players that succeeded as we try to find free agent options for the 2022 season.

    What trends stick out to you from the list of “ideal” free agents above? Which of the above names were you clamoring for the Twins to sign at the time? Leave a comment below and start the conversation!
     

     

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    The one caveat I would throw in is we do not know how either Ray or Rondon would have done here.  In particular with Rondon he was with Sox for years and they clearly figured something out with him, we may not have and he would have been as bad with us as he had been for years with the Sox.  Ray K numbers have been the same, but his walks have never been this low in the past.  For the price I would have went after Ray first over Happ for sure, but he may not have had the same reduction in walks this year with Twins either.  

    In terms of Wong, he was never a thought because of the playing second and we had a second baseman if we were keeping Polonco so only reason to bring in middle infielder was to upgrade defense at SS. 

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    Definitely would have been hard to pick these successes, other than Kolten Wong. I wanted him badly for that price. But also thought Simmons would fit really well (bye bye, my credibility in this post). Ray's bouceback wasn't a given due to all his free passes, but I think it was easy to predict he'd be better than Happless. Shoemaker never should have gotten a major league deal. That play on upside was just a terrible idea and everyone seemed to know it. Relievers are so damn tricky, I can't even lie that I would have done better.

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    11 minutes ago, ToddlerHarmon said:

    Probably true in the case of Ray, but the strategy of late FA signings did backfire on the Twins here, and remains questionable for fielding a playoff team

    I don't know that their strategy is signing FA late as much as it's not going over what they have decided a player is worth. They're "in" on plenty of players early, but they set hard lines on contracts and won't go above what they feel the player is worth. That can push them out of some negotiations and leave them to only getting guys later when the player's market has come back down. Think it's a solid strategy in many cases, but not all. The SS market this winter will be interesting to watch as there's a chance somebody will have that same sort of strategy and end up with an all-star SS for much less than expected.

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    I like all except the Wong deal. The plan all along was to move Polo off short to 2nd and it seems that part of the plan has worked. I don't think there were too many "experts" that expected Simmons to tank as badly as he did. Hindsight is 20/20. The Simmons deal itself wouldn't look quite so bad if the pitching deals hadn't all flopped.

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    14 minutes ago, chpettit19 said:

    That can push them out of some negotiations and leave them to only getting guys later when the player's market has come back down.

    I'll go along with your clarification, but this part brings up another concern: doesn't this strategy also set them up to sign players about whom they disagree with the rest of the league? Which works if they find a diamond in the rough, but fails if they fail to account for the shortcomings that others have seen.

    In any case, the player evaluation remains the thing they have to get right. Nothing new or surprising there.

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    6 minutes ago, ToddlerHarmon said:

    I'll go along with your clarification, but this part brings up another concern: doesn't this strategy also set them up to sign players about whom they disagree with the rest of the league? Which works if they find a diamond in the rough, but fails if they fail to account for the shortcomings that others have seen.

    In any case, the player evaluation remains the thing they have to get right. Nothing new or surprising there.

    Oh there's definitely pros and cons to their strategy. I think it makes sense to avoid signing guys for more than they're worth. I mean the Padres would love to have Eric Hosmer and his 20M a year off their books. So it helps them avoid those bad deals that weigh them down. But you also miss out on the players you identify as having the best chance to succeed because you won't go higher than a certain price. It all falls apart when 100% (Cruz was technically a free agent, but he was returning) of your signings fail.

    My guess is they break free agents into tiers and say "these guys are worth up $X" and "these guys are worth $Y." Then they want to bring in a certain number of guys from each tier and they engage with agents. They pursue their preferred guy until the price gets above X or Y then move to the next guy in that tier. It's a logical approach, but certainly has some holes. And when you miss like they did this offseason there definitely needs to be some reflection on what lead them to their decisions. Good news is they can't be any worse than missing on everyone!

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    Agree with you that hind sight is 20/20 and that our pitching free agent signings were terrible from the start. Although we had hope that Wes Johnson could work his magic on the relief pitchers like in the past but that didn't happen.

      Even so I don't put a lot of stock in free agency except players like Nelson Cruz. That being said I believe the best route is trading our redundant players and any over rated players to obtain great valued players that fit our needs. I suggested going after under valued pitchers from PIT, Musgrove, Tailon and closer Rodriguez. If we had traded for them instead of the free agents that we signed , we would have been in much better situation, record, financial and 40 man roster (where we lost Akil Baddo and in danger of losing more)

     Simmons to me was a success. He kept Polanco at 2B, so he could recover and be the great player that he is. Simmons covers a lot of ground, his ankles were healthy and his hitting was better than I expected. Yes, he looked terrible after his bout with covid but I blame that on too much layoff and the home run he hit. Many players have problems after they hit home runs because it goes to their heads. Coaches need to help keep hitters on track.

     I also think our problems are deeper than players.

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    Quite a "whack a mole" exercise. I think if the pitching moves had been better, the defense of Simmons would have been more recognized. I think his signing was done to attract FA pitchers here with our improved D. However, he couldn't field moon shots to the seats. I do think he should have been vetted about his thoughts on vaccination prior to signing. Covid definitely affected his play.

    It will be interesting to see how the health of Royce Lewis is next spring, as that could affect whether the Twins jump into the market to sign one of the SS biggies. And I hope they can get their pitching targets right this time if they look at FAs again. 

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    I would like to create a time machine after reading articles like this. Let me go do a little tinkering in the garage, see what I can come up with. If you suddenly find yourself in a reality where the Twins and White Sox are neck-and-neck, you'll know I got it working.

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    8 hours ago, ToddlerHarmon said:

    I'll go along with your clarification, but this part brings up another concern: doesn't this strategy also set them up to sign players about whom they disagree with the rest of the league? Which works if they find a diamond in the rough, but fails if they fail to account for the shortcomings that others have seen.

    In any case, the player evaluation remains the thing they have to get right. Nothing new or surprising there.

    This is true, but it's also true of the vast majority of the teams in the league.  Even the teams that can spend at will need to get player evaluation right, they just have more means to absorb mistakes.

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    Nelson Cruz was a good signing agreed. Genius in fact.

    Justin Turner, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana were all possible options

    These dudes all signed multi year deals. Santana has already been a flop, and Justin Turner and Michael Brantley run injury risks. Twins don't need more of that and to lure them alway from the Dodgers and Astros would have been a bidding war between two teams with a lot more money.

    Simmons was also a great signing. Yes I said it.

    Simmons was signed for his defense. His defensive WAR puts him as one of the best defensive SS's of all-time. If Simmons plays an elite SS, it allows the Twins to save money on pitching. The plan was clearly, Buxton in CF and Simmons at SS saving enough runs that you could throw mediocre pitchers out there and still get some results.

    Simmons defense has been good, but not legendary unfortunately. In hindsight this looks bad, however the Twins aren't stuck with him for 2-4 more years. 

    Other options - Kolton Wong would have been cool, however moving Polonco to 2B has given Jorge his first season with a positive DRS (defensive runs saved). The true other option would have been Didi Gregorious. He signed a 2 year deal which is turning out to look bad for the Phillies because they are stuck with him another year. Based on the Twins options, Simmons was the best option after losing out on Semien. 

    J.A. Happ is another good signing. Yes I hate to say it but it's true.

    J.A. Happ gave up 10 HRS in 2020 and if he was pitching in target field, only 6 of them would have gone out. He had an excellent track record previously and for an organization that badly needed starting rotation help, it's an easy gamble.

    Other options - Several, but not Robbie Ray. Robbie Ray had a disgusting 2020. 6.62 ERA with a 5.84 xFIP? You can't even say he was unlucky with those numbers, just bad. J.A. Happ was a much safer play and a better call. It didn't work out, however it's great to hear about Robbie's success. The dude certainly figured it out. Lets not forget, we received a couple of players for Happ that might help out the Twins next season so it's an easy win.

    RP Alex Colome very bad

    Alex Colome had a pretty cool 2.92 ERA in 2020 but since his xFIP was 4.53, any amateur could see that his success was lucky. The Twins didn't care and they signed him anyways and now his ERA matches his xFIP with a 4.26 ERA to an xFIP of 4.53. When this happened, I figured the Twins saw something to tweak with him, however he's remained steady on his fastball/cutter combo from previous years with not enough success. 

    RP Hansel Robles ok.

    Robles also had a terrible 2020. It was easy to see why the Twins wanted to take a chance on him. He has electric stuff. What I'm surprised about is that they didn't try to "tweak" him in anyway. He's improved his GB% pretty significantly, however he's throwing all of his pitches pretty much the same from previous years.

    Other Options - For the price they signed Colome, it would have been good to see a few more chances being taken. I do like the Sergio Romo option, Just keep in mind this is hard to do. Brad Hand is pretty much out of the league. Keona Kela is out indefinitely, Matt Wisler would have been an amazing signing for the results he keeps getting. Anthony Bass was another one that I heard Twins groan about that we missed signing but that turned out good. Jake McGee would have been nice since he actually had a good track record. 

    All in all, I'm disappointed in the Twins RP signings the most. However, it's a little bit of a crap shoot, however we could have taken chances on 3 different RP for the price we signed Colome to and that would have been a better use of the salary. Luckily, we aren't stuck with either of those guys after the season so at least that's the positive.

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    Hindsight is definitely 20/20, but as people have mentioned things like maybe Ray or Rodon don't do as well with the twins as they have done with their respective teams, so looking at things may have changed for the better or worse what if the Twins had just kept what they had in house??  Odorizzi and Hill who have both been decent this year, way way better than Shoemaker and Happ, but nowhere near Rodon etc....  But had they also just kept May and Romo over Colome and Robles?  I mean when teams get on a roll you know guys will play better than what their peripherals say they should and vice versa.  For instance Happ looked like his career was done and now in St Louis he looks ok again?  But what if the clubhouse mostly stayed the same??  Odorizzi and Hill; Trevor May and Romo?  Maybe even clippard also?  How far off would that have put the payroll?  I know for a fact that those guys play better than what the twins replaced them with.  But how much?

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    Woulda, coulda, shoulda. This season has been a disaster and you can't fully blame it on what we should have/ could have (maybe) done. There are players on the team now (Sano, Kepler, Rogers, Maeda, etc., etc.) who did not do the job we thought they would.

    We should not look back but should look forward. What should we do for next year is the real question. We don't want this season to repeat.

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    Even in hindsight, I'll take Simmons over Wong...unless you think Wong would make a decent SS. Wong is a vastly superior 2B, so Wong being a league average SS might be possible. He would definitely be better than Polanco.

    That said, I'd rather have the 2021 version of Simmons on this team than the 2021 version of Wong. 

    In hindsight, Semien is the only FA IF that would have been a superior option for the Twins than Simmons. I call that a front office win, even if it seems like a wash overall. 

    BTW, Simmons is the front runner for the AL SS GG. That's kind of rad. While it's not ideal, I'd be happy with the Twins signing Simmons to another one year contract. It could be worse. They could have signed Kolten Wong. 

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