Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Which Free Agent Starter Fits the Twins?

After unloading Jose Berrios at the trade deadline, watching Kenta Maeda go under the knife, and seeing Michael Pineda hit free agency, the Twins starting rotation is bare. Who is the top choice to bolster it? 

As of right now you’d have to bank on either Bailey Ober or Joe Ryan being the Opening Day starter in 2022 for Rocco Baldelli. Both showed well in their rookie seasons, but if that’s the top of the rotation, there’s cause for concern in the year ahead. Minnesota failed tremendously on the mound, and depth was exposed quickly as both J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker flopped. For the Twins to make a turnaround in the year ahead, the focus must be on a resurgence from the bump. 

Similarly to the 2021 season, the hope is that Minnesota will see graduations from the farm. Top arms like Jordan Balazovic, Jhoan Duran, and Matt Canterino all posted mixed results with injuries sprinkled in. Another year back from the cancelled 2020 season, and the hope would be that a clean bill of health is parlayed into peak effectiveness. Before banking on the youth though, the Twins need to give Wes Johnson some workable ammunition for a group that is essentially bare.

The free agent crop this offseason is a who’s who of big names, and while not all may make it to the open market, there should be one or two that fit to Minnesota’s liking. Here’s how I’d categorize the options: 

The Injured - Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander

There’s a known commodity and a more unknown question here. Kershaw represents the unknown as he’s dealing with an elbow injury that cost him multiple months this season. He is avoiding surgery for the time being but could be ticketed for a much longer time on the shelf if he goes under the knife. The career-Dodger will be 34 next season but has a ton of miles on his arm. Production has never been the issue and if he can avoid back and elbow concerns for the next year or so, there’s reason to like him on a short term deal.

On the flip side you’ve got a guy in Verlander who will be returning from Tommy John surgery having last pitched in 2020. He’ll be 39 next season and has thrown just six innings since 2019. There’s hardly been a time in which you’ve questioned his ability though, and a clean elbow could have him looking like an appetizing option on a one-year deal. The Astros will likely give him a qualifying offer should that still exist, but Verlander definitely has familiarity with the AL Central.

The Aging - Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke

Having just turned 37, that’s about the only reason to define Scherzer as aging. He’s still every bit the dominant pitcher he has been over the course of his career, and he’s attempting to carry a Dodgers staff through the Postseason. Of the options available, I think he’s probably the most likely to be retained by the current team, and while I wouldn’t expect Los Angeles to give him a long extension, they certainly have the money to persuade him to stay.

With the Astros having rotational issues this Postseason it’s clear they have work to do in that department. I’m not sure they hang onto a guy in Greinke that has hit somewhat of a decline. His 4.16 ERA was the highest mark since 2016 and he’s clearly struggled down the stretch. If another team believes they can work through the current ineffectiveness, this is probably the best bet for a good starter on a one-year deal. He seems like a fit for Minnesota but comes with plenty of uncertainties.

The Youth - Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman

If you want to secure a long-term pact with a rotation anchor this is where you’re turning. Starting with Stroman, you’ve got a guy in the midst of his prime and coming off a very strong season. Not a big strikeout guy, Stroman needs to be backed by a good infield as he’s a ground ball maestro. Someone that appears to be a very good leader and clubhouse presence, this is a personality that could mesh well with the Twins plans for quite some time.

The breakout finally happened for Gausman, and it came in a big way. With the Giants being baseball’s best team, the 30-year-old posted a career best 2.81 ERA. He racks up strikeouts, limits walks, and looks every bit the ace you’d hope for. 2020 is where things seemed to click for the former Orioles pitcher, so you’ll need to make sure there’s a belief in the results going forward, but nothing he’s put up recently is anything an organization would want to avoid. 

A positive this winter is that pitching options are plentiful. Those above just barely scratch the surface considering names like Syndergaard, Bundy, and even Pineda are all available. The Twins need to find a path forward, and for a transitional time it might make sense to focus on short term deals. There should be any number of options that are within their wheelhouse, and while the big names are there as always, this might be an opportunity to land the right fit without breaking the bank.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Did Nick Gordon Do Enough?


This upcoming season the Minnesota Twins have plenty to decide when it comes to their middle infield. They need a shortstop, and while that could be Jorge Polanco, I’d advise them looking elsewhere. Where, though, does that leave rookie Nick Gordon?

Playing in 73 games and getting exactly 200 plate appearances, Gordon found himself getting a good amount of run for Rocco Baldelli’s squad. There should have been more opportunity had Andrelton Simmons not clogged things for the entirety of the season, but nonetheless Gordon was given a glimpse.

For the past few seasons, I have wondered whether Gordon’s time would come with Minnesota at all. He has a track record of performing well when repeating a level for the second time, and despite missing 2020 with the minor league shutdown, he showed up ready to go in 2021. Miscast as a shortstop, and lacking the power for a second basemen, Gordon needed to reinvent himself. He proved capable of that this season, but where does that leave him going forward?

As a fielder, Gordon saw action at six different positions this past season. The bulk of his playing time came in centerfield (34 G), and his true home of second base was doubled up (17 G). He also made 14 appearances at shortstop, where he’d contest is home, and 12 in the corner outfield with two cameos at third base.

From an all encompassing perspective, it was a jack of all trades, master of none approach. To be fair, that’s ultimately what a utility player is. Gordon adapting to the outfield on the fly should be seen as an incredible boost for the Twins, and something definitely working in his favor. Recording just over 220 innings in centerfield, Gordon posted a -1 DRS there with a -0.8 UZR. It’s too small of a sample size to take much from, but he did also record 1 DRS in 110 innings at second base.

Ultimately, I think that Nick Gordon proved he can be useful anywhere on the diamond. The question still remains if Minnesota should want him in that capacity. On the offensive side of things, the former first round pick slashed .240/.292/.355 for a .647 OPS and a 79 OPS+. Minnesota’s last two utility players posted a 94 OPS+ (Marwin Gonzalez) and a 103 OPS+ (Ehire Adrianza) during the final full year that was 2019. Both were terrible in 2020, but I’d imagine that’s not the bar the Twins are looking to clear.

Gordon’s additional strength is that he can run. The Twins haven’t had much of a stolen base threat outside of Byron Buxton in recent seasons. They definitely have not had a capable pinch runner on their bench. Swiping ten bags and being caught just once, Gordon displayed an ability to generate runs on the basepaths this season. If that’s a skill or advantage Minnesota is looking for, he’s the cheapest option.

I’m not sure if Gordon makes the 26-man to start 2022 or not, but he’s certainly made his case better than it was at any other point coming into his career. There’s not a ton to hope on future development here, but if Minnesota wants to make use of their former first round pick, then it’s seeming like they’ve got a path to get it done.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Twins Arbitration Decisions Loom


Today Major League Baseball Trade Rumors put out their numbers for projected arbitration salaries. While they aren’t going to be spot on, the website is often seen as the gold standard in this space. Minnesota has some big names to decide on.

The most notable eligible player here is also the one guy deserving of a long term extension. Byron Buxton will at worst be tendered a new deal, and his projected $7.3 million would be a steal. So too would a new long-term extension with Minnesota for anything less than $200 million. The only question here is whether a contract is agreed to with the Twins, and if they’ll wind up paying him for the duration of 2022.

Taylor Rogers gets the second biggest number on Minnesota’s bill after being named a first-time All-Star in 2021. His $6.7 million seems like a steal in terms of value and talent but coming off an injury that shut down his season, it’s worth wondering if the Twins front office will feel the same way. Rogers should be back if there’s belief he’ll be healthy. Trading him with injury uncertainty could be a tough path. Ultimately, I think he returns.

Both Tyler Duffey and Mitch Garver should be seen as favorable options to be back with the Twins. The former is a reliever with a high ceiling that lost his way at times during 2021. He could be dealt if Minnesota finds a willing partner, but the fit at the back end of the bullpen still remains great. Garver is arguably one of the best catchers in baseball, and although he could be coveted by the opposition in any deals Derek Falvey may try to swing, Minnesota will tender him a deal regardless.

It’s still surprising to me that J.A. Happ netted the Twins anything, and John Gant is certainly a few rungs up on that ladder. He wasn’t amazing by any means, but there’s plenty of usable ability there. The question for the Twins is what they see his path going forward being. If he’s a starter then the $3.7 million doesn’t seem egregious at all. If he’s a reliever, that’s a middle-relief arm that doesn’t possess a ton of upside. I’d lean towards keeping him, but also wouldn’t be shocked if the front office feels otherwise.

Minnesota will have easy decisions on Luis Arraez and Caleb Thielbar. At $2 million and under, both players provide well above that from a value perspective. The Twins may dangle Arraez this offseason on the trade market, but he’s also a strong candidate to remain an integral super-utility piece. Thielbar has made himself into a full-time big leaguer, and now he’ll get a payday for it. (An aside, both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs have Luis Aaraez pre-arb until 2023, so he shouldn't need more than the MLB minimum.)

The trio of lower options include Juan Minaya, Danny Coulombe, and Rob Refsnyder. The first was arguably the Twins best reliever down the stretch and has pitched his way into the 2022 bullpen. Coulombe isn’t anything to get excited about, but he’s a fine option to round out a group that will need some cheaper arms as well. Refsnyder is an interesting case as he turned into a pumpkin following his return from the Injured List. Maybe Minnesota keeps him around as a depth outfielder, but Buxton or not, he can’t be the fourth option on this Major League roster.

That leaves just two guys who I see as obvious DFA candidates. It makes no sense for Minnesota to retain the services of either Jake Cave or Willians Astudillo for more than $1 million each. To be frank, neither player fits the roster nor is worthy of a spot at the Major League minimum, but with arbitration eligibility, a non-tender is the way these have to go. Cave is no longer productive at the plate, at the novelty of Astudillo wore off a long time ago.

If this comes to fruition as outlined Minnesota would retain 10 of their 12 arbitration eligible players for a total of $60.4 million.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Projecting the Postseason Winners


After winning two straight AL Central Division titles, the Minnesota Twins flopped and failed a three-peat before things got off the ground. They’ll watch this Postseason from home, but there’s still plenty of exciting talent worth tuning into.

Running from the Wild Card round through the World Series, here’s who I’ve got and why:

AL Wild Card

Yankees over Red Sox

In a one game, winner take all, I don’t think you can bet against Gerrit Cole, and the lineup New York currently has clicking. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have carried this team for weeks. The club nearly gave it away on the final day, but I think they beat their biggest rival at home. Boston owned a 10-9 record with a +1 run differential over the Yankees this season. New York will attempt to even that out.

AL Division Series

Rays over Yankees

There’s no denying that New York has the better ace, but Tampa has owned this matchup all year. While New York is just 8-11 against the Rays in 2021, they have a -48 run differential. The Yankees do have some veteran leadership on their side, but I don’t know that Corey Kluber is a guy I want to hang my Postseason hopes on. The lineup is peaking, but it may have come a bit too soon. I think a very big X-factor here for Tampa Bay could be the usage of highly-touted prospect Shane Baz.

Astros over White Sox

A very small sample, sure, but Chicago was just 2-5 with a -12 run differential against Houston this season. Although the White Sox may have the better rotation, I’m not sure it’s that much of a discrepancy. Houston has largely flown under the radar this season, and the entire lineup is full of star power. Alex Bregman on a big stage always is must-see television.

AL Championship Series

Astros over Rays

These two clubs played each other just six times in 2021, and they nearly split the action with just three runs separating the contests. Both forward-thinking approaches to the game, this should be a fun series. Tampa Bay is looking for a return trip to the World Series, but Houston gets an opportunity to distance themselves from the cheating scandal.

NL Wild Card

Dodgers over Cardinals

Welcome to a year in which a team that won 106 games is playing in a one-game, winner-take-all, affair. The Dodgers have any number of arms to piece this one together, and their lineup should be expected to cause fits for whoever St. Louis puts on the bump. It’s a tough spot, but this is where’d you’d like to believe the best team shines.

NL Division Series

Dodgers over Giants

San Francisco has been the best story of the season in my mind. A team expected to do so little comes out and wins 107 games. These two clubs nearly split their 19 contests and Los Angeles held a +2 run differential. It’s a lot tighter of a matchup than it may seem, but I think this is a spot where the higher tiered talent rises to the occasion. Clayton Kershaw being out hurts Los Angeles, but if there’s an organization with starting arms to make up for it, they are it.

Braves over Brewers

Initially I wanted to ride with Milwaukee’s pitchers, but Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff can’t do it all. Behind them is a rotation leaving plenty to be desired, and the lineup is more name than it is substance. Atlanta will have to prove that they’re more than an 88-win team coming out of a very mediocre decision, but Freddie Freeman can carry this club. Atlanta seems like a strong flier team, and one worth taking a shot on.

NL Championship Series

Dodgers over Braves

If Los Angeles can get past the test that is their first two rounds, they should be looking at a trip to the World Series. Regardless of who comes out of the bottom half of the National League bracket, they should be facing an uphill battle. This is where Atlanta wears down and the Dodgers go back to seek a second-straight World Series.

World Series

The National League has won each of the past two World Series. No team has won back-to-back World Series since the New York Yankees ended their last three-peat in 2000. Houston and Los Angeles faced off during the 2017 World Series, which the Astros won over Dave Roberts. Dusty Baker is at the helm in Houston now and is looking for just the second pennant of his career, and first ring. Again, Houston’s ability has been overlooked much of the season and I think we see a replicated result from 2017. Your 2021 Major League Baseball Champions are the Houston Astros.

Astros over Dodgers