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  1. There is no salary cap in baseball, but many teams have a self-imposed limit this winter for a variety of reasons. Revenues were limited in a pandemic shortened 2020 campaign and there are still plenty of questions about how much those revenues will improve in 2021. Minnesota’s current payroll sits around $110-113 million with the team anticipated to spend around $125 million. This leaves room for one more big signing or a pair of smaller additions. Many early reports had Cruz asking for a two-year contract and when looking at his last two seasons, that might seem like a no-brainer. Since joining the Twins, he has hit .308/.394/.626 with 57 home runs and 32 doubles in 173 games. However, his increasing age continues to be the elephant in the room. He turned 40-years-old last July, and he will be 41 about halfway through the 2021 campaign. Does any team want to have significant money tied to a 42-year-old DH? With their remaining payroll, the Twins can go in a few different directions to help the 2021 squad. Many of the players listed below will sign in the coming weeks and Minnesota doesn’t want to be left with money on the table. Adding to the rotation seems like an intriguing option for the Twins and signing Cruz likely means the Twins would enter 2021 with their current rotation. Trevor Bauer won’t exactly fit into the team’s self-imposed payroll restrictions, but names like James Paxton, Jake Odorizzi, and Taijuan Walker are still available. Any of these options can fit into the middle of Minnesota’s rotation and be relied on for starts in the postseason. For designated hitter, the top name left on the market is Marcell Ozuna, who is a decade younger than Cruz. He is coming off a tremendous season with the Braves, but he would likely come with a longer commitment and higher salary than Cruz. Minnesota might not want to invest long-term at DH with many of the team’s top prospects projected to be corner outfielders or first base types (Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, Brent Rooker, etc.) Adding to the bullpen is also an option, but it remains to be seen if the Twins would consider spending money on relievers when the current regime has found luck in cheap options that turn into valuable assets. Alex Colome and Trevor Rosenthal are the two biggest names available and the Twins might be able to add both players with their remaining payroll flexibility. It still seems likely for Cruz to wind up back in a Twins uniform, especially with no decision yet made about the DH in the National League. However, time is ticking away, and Minnesota might not want to hold out much longer. Will the Twins be forced to move on from Cruz? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  2. There holes left to fill on the Twins roster, but luckily for Twins fans, there are plenty of options still available. Here’s a look at three positions where Minnesota could add the most value. WAR total comparisons are from FanGraphs ZiPS projections for the 2021 season. Designated Hitter It’s ridiculous that the National League still doesn’t know if they will have a designated hitter in 2021. Teams are supposed to proceed as if there won’t be a NL DH, but it makes it tough for free agents like Nelson Cruz to know their market. Cruz and the Twins have been in contact throughout the off-season and the two parties seem like a natural match with the current DH market. However, there are other options for the Twins to consider. If the Twins choose not to sign a DH, the organization’s options to fill the role are Brent Rooker and Alex Kirilloff. Rooker had an impactful debut before being hit with a pitch that ended his season. Kirilloff seems more likely to take over Rosario’s role in the outfield, but he could still get at-bats as the DH. Marcell Ozuna represents Minnesota’s best chance to add the most value at DH. He’s a decade younger than Cruz and he is coming off a tremendous season in Atlanta. Obviously, his price tag is going to include a longer commitment and more money than Cruz. Michael Brantley is a different style hitter than Cruz and Ozuna, but he also offers more defensive flexibility than some of the other DH options. Current DH Options: Rooker (0.5 WAR), Kirilloff (1.5 WAR) Free Agent DH: Ozuna (3.6 WAR), Cruz (3.1 WAR), Brantley (2.9 WAR) Back-End Starting Pitching Minnesota’s top three starters are already penciled in with Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, and Michael Pineda. This means the club is looking for other options to fill out the back half of the rotation. In-house options like Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer, Lewis Thorpe, and Jhoan Duran could eat innings in the fifth starter spot. However, the team likely doesn’t want to rely on those arms filling in back-end roles. Minnesota isn’t going to spend the money it takes to sign Trevor Bauer, so the Twins are likely looking at the other names at the top of the free agent list. This includes Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, Jake Odorizzi, Taijuan Walker, and Jose Quintana. ZiPS loves Dobnak so only the first three free agent pitchers would be an upgrade over him to the Twins rotation. Current 4/5 Starters: Dobnak (1.5 WAR), Smeltzer (0.8 WAR), Thorpe (0.5 WAR), Duran (0.8 WAR) Free Agent Starters: Paxton (2.7 WAR), Tanaka (2.3 WAR), Odorizzi (1.8 WAR), Walker (1.2 WAR), Quintana (1.3 WAR) Infield Depth The Twins need to add infield depth with Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianaza both becoming free agents. Throughout the offseason, there has been talk about moving Jorge Polanco to a super utility role and the Twins acquiring a better defensive shortstop. One option would be to trade for a shortstop with an expiring contract like Javier Baez or Trevor Story, but there are plenty of good free agent options still available that would allow the team to keep prospects. If the Twins want a starting shortstop, there are clearly three players at the top of the free agent market. Andrelton Simmons, Didi Gregorius, and Marcus Semien are all very intriguing options and the idea of having Simmons and Donaldson on the same side of the infield is a defensive dream. Semien is projected is the only player projected for a higher WAR than Polanco. Other utility options include Jurickson Profar, Enrique Hernandez, and Tommy La Stella, but none of them are considered everyday shortstops. Current SS/Utility Infielders: Polanco (2.8 WAR), Gordon (1.1 WAR), Miranda (0.8 WAR), Blankenhorn (-0.2 WAR) Free Agent SS/Utility Players: Semien (3.9 WAR), Simmons (2.7 WAR), Gregorius (2.3 WAR), Profar (1.6 WAR), La Stella (0.7 WAR), Hernandez (0.6 WAR) If the Twins want to add the most value, it looks like they should turn to Ozuna, Paxton, and Semien. That trio of players would likely come with a hefty price tag, so the Twins might have to be creative as they complete their roster. Where do you think the Twins can add the most value? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  3. According to mlb.com, Severino is being shut down and his opening day status is in question. That means NY may begin the season without both Severino and James Paxton in the rotation.
  4. There isn’t a ton of history between this collection of Twins and the Yankees presumed ace. Paxton started Opening Day at Target Field last season after a bald eagle attempted to throw him off his game. That lineup couldn’t be further from the 2019 collection, and this squad saw him for just three innings in May before he hit the injured list for nearly a month. Rather than breaking down individual matchups, the intrigue between what both sides do well is a tug-of-war between who wins out. Rocco Baldelli’s club set the single-season MLB home run record in 2019, besting this New York club by one. They owned the second-best slugging percentage in the history of baseball, and they thrive by hitting the ball out of the park. Dominated by right-handed power, left-handed arms are something the Twins have stuck a fork in all year. Facing lefties 39 times they posted a .286/.357/.529 slash line with 88 home runs. That’s an average of 2.3 HR per start against lefties as opposed to their 1.8 HR per start against righties. There’s also the consideration of where Paxton may pitch against the Twins. Unless his butt injury bumps him from a game one appearance, he can be expected to take the ball starting the series and then in a potential game four scenario. The first game would be at Yankees Stadium with that second start coming at Target Field. Minnesota has been a record-breaking road team this year, and the lineup has an OPS .31 points higher away from Target Field. In those road contests they also left the yard an additional 33 times. From a stadium standpoint Target Field and Yankees Stadium have both played very similarly in 2019. Per ESPN’s MLB Park Factors they rank 24th and 25th in HR. What we saw between these squads both during the extra-inning affair in Minneapolis, and their total body of work, is that any given night can make a ball yard look pretty small. So how does this stack up against Paxton? Well, there’s a lot to unpack. As a lefty it would be expected that righties hit better off of him, and that is the case. Opposite- handed batters own a .752 OPS against him while left-handed hitters have posted just a .670 OPS. Those lefties enjoy a higher .266 average and .314 on-base percentage. Righties jump way up in terms of slugging, posting a .445 mark, nearly 100 points higher. Surrendering 23 homers in 2019, Paxton has allowed only two of them to left-handed hitters and he has a K/BB two trips to the bench higher against lefties. Although Yankees Stadium is often considered a bandbox, Paxton has enjoyed his time at home. In 15 home starts he has an ERA a full run lower (3.35) with an OPS nearly 200 points less (.650) than where he’s at on the road (.814). 2019 was Paxton’s worst full season as a starter. He posted his highest ERA, walk rate, and HR rate. He’s given up a career high hard-hit rate, fly ball rate, and nearly matched his HR/FB tally from 2018. That’s not to suggest this isn’t still a top-tier pitcher as the former Mariner is sitting down over 11 per nine and gets swinging strikes 14% of the time. It’s for spots like these that the Yankees went and swung the deal to bolster their rotation. At the end of the day something must give, and it’s pretty hard not to say the pressure is on the Bombers. Paxton is pitching in the postseason for the first time, and now doing so with the weight of the empire on his back. He throws with the arm that Minnesota clobbers, and he’ll be coming off an injury-shortened start his last time out. As the home team it’s on New York to hold serve in the Bronx, and with Luis Severino likely to follow Paxton, a game one steal may be the best hand for the Twins to play. Given how closely these two teams look on paper, it’s hard to imagine we’re going to see anything less than a four-game series. If the Twins can continue playing to their strengths and get to Paxton in game one, they’ll be in a great spot to make their way to the American League Championship Series. There’s no denying that Minnesota needs to perform up to expectations as well, but if there’s a draw they should be salivating about, it’s this one. Not all aces are made equal, and much like Jose Berrios for Minnesota, Paxton has plenty to prove across the entire baseball landscape. Pitching can tend to have the upper hand in October, but Baldelli employing #BombaSZN early would hardly be a shock.
  5. Let’s get this out of the way right now: This Twins team hasn’t lost anything to the Yankees. None of these guys care about what Ron Gardenhire’s clubs did against the Evil Empire, and I can guarantee no one in the current clubhouse is worried about what wins and losses took place a decade ago. Let’s view this through the lens of relevance in the here and now. Chasing down the best record in the American League, the only thing in New York’s way is the Houston Astros. Besting a rotation bolstered by Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke in a five or seven game series seems near impossible. That isn’t just a Minnesota hurdle, but one that makes Houston the odds-on favorite to win the World Series regardless of who they play. The best way for the Twins to generate positive momentum is an ALDS victory, and the most optimal way for that to occur is a few wins in the Bronx. So why the Yankees? I’m glad you asked. Starting Pitching Does it stink that the Twins won’t be able to turn to Michael Pineda at any point? Certainly. Do they need Jose Berrios and a few of his co-workers to step up? Certainly. Are they going to have opportunity against a New York group that owns the 19th rotation in baseball, and 15th since August first? Absolutely. James Paxton has had a lackluster 2019, but he’s been exceptional of late. A 2.57 ERA since August 2nd is the type of arm the Yankees intended to acquire. As a game one type pitcher, he’s everything you could hope for. From there, Aaron Boone has Masahiro Tanaka, Domingo German, and J.A. Happ. That trio has as many warts (if not more) than the group Minnesota would call upon to oppose them. The Twins may not see Happ in an effort to keep a lefty off the hill, but the lineup can certainly bang through any of those arms. Relief Pitching It’s kind of weird to think a group with Aroldis Chapman, Adam Ottavino, and Zack Britton could be bested but Minnesota is doing that just now. Since the trade deadline only the Tampa Bay Rays have a better relief corps than Wes Johnson’s group. The Twins don’t have the names, but Sergio Romo has bolstered an internal group anchored by the likes of Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, and Trevor May. Realistically the Twins need to be able to get something from Sam Dyson. Knowing October games will be shortened by relief arms getting extended work, Baldelli needs the ability to turn to his recently acquired help. Hopefully the Twins can get his biceps soreness right over the next couple of weeks and get him back in the fold. New York is going to get better with the additions of Dellin Betances and Luis Severino. There’s no denying their group has the bigger names and more trustworthy performances. Because Minnesota started the year with so many question marks doesn’t make that a reality now though, and this collection of Twins' relievers can get the best of them. Lineup After setting the major league record in home runs for a single season, it’s easy to call the Bomba Squad a force to be reckoned with. The Yankees are the one team that holds a candle to that power though, trailing in the same stat by just single digits. The collection often known as the Bombers have plenty of pop on their own, but there’s also a level of uncertainty. Left fielder Mike Tauchman was just lost for the year, and former Minnesota outfielder Aaron Hicks is still on the shelf. Edwin Encarnacion and Gio Urshella recently returned to active duty, but they both need to work their way back in (Edwin appears to be acclimating just fine). Much like the Twins, there aren’t many holes in this group one through nine, but they’re also a team that can be hung with. The two squads are separated by less than 10 runs in total run differential, and despite a few game difference in the win column, that’s indicative of how similar they are. It’s obvious that the Twins need to get healthy. The Minnesota lineup needs a full go Nelson Cruz, Miguel Sano, and Max Kepler. Jake Cave being back with Marin Gonzalez are also must have additions. There’s no denying that the current Rocco Baldelli group isn’t in an optimal spot. Fast forward two weeks though and getting proper rest and healing would leave about a week of runway prior to the postseason. If the organization can prioritize health, and mix in some winning along the way, then October gets significantly brighter. The rotation was going to need to step up in big spots regardless of who was available. Health is more important than the loss of Pineda, and stealing games is going to need to happen against the Astros rotation regardless. The Twins are as good as the Yankees in 2019 and establishing that during the ALDS would go a long way for the sake of momentum. Winning the World Series is difficult. One team out of thirty ends their season on a winning note. Not all organizations have the same probability, and even being among the final ten teams, odds are stacked in a few teams' favor. If you’re a Twins fan down the stretch though, you should be a Houston fan as well. Let the October road begin in New York and grab a big series victory before giving World Series favorite Houston all you have.
  6. According to MLbtraderumors, the Yankees and Mariners have annouced a trade with James Paxton going to New York and Justus Sheffield and two other minor leaguers going to the Mariners. This seems to set up that only about 7 teams intend to compete next year with all the rest in reset or rebuild mode. Good news is that the Yankees will probably only sign one more starter, so some ot the competiton will be less, bad news is that the Yankees will be a very good to great ballclub next year. This seems to be more of a reset for Seattle to line up a run a couple of years later. Final analysis will depend on Paxton's health over the next two years and whether Justus Sheffield is as good as advertised. Interesting first piece to the offseason.
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