The Time is Now: Brandon Warne’s 2019 Minnesota Twins Offseason Blueprint

The Time is Now: Brandon Warne’s 2019 Minnesota Twins Offseason Blueprint

Written By Brandon Warne (ZoneCoverage.com)
Photo Credit: Brian Curski Photography

The Minnesota Twins are coming off a thrilling 101-win season in 2019 — and a deflating 3-0 loss to the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series. Around these parts, it’s now Golf SZN — or really, snowshoe SZN — which leaves us the rest of the fall and winter to think about what is next for the team.

There’s no excuse for the Twins not to push all their chips into the middle of the pot. The time is now. Thad Levine and Derek Falvey have said all along that when they felt their window was going to open up, they’d be aggressive.

Now is that time.

So here is our 2019 Offseason Blueprint. It’s equal parts aggressive and smart, with an eye enough to the future to maintain the flexibility that’ll be required if/when guys like Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios are up for long-term extensions.

You don’t have to agree with all of it — or even any of it — but it’s just one man’s opinion.

40-man Outrights
  • RP Ryne Harper (likely refuses, declares free agency)
  • RP Trevor Hildenberger (outrighted to Triple-A, remains in organization)
  • SP/RP Kohl Stewart (outrighted to Triple-A, remains in organization)
  • IF Ronald Torreyes (likely refuses, declares free agency)
  • OF Ian Miller (outrighted to Triple-A, remains in organization)
  • OF Ryan LaMarre (likely refuses, declares free agency)

Analysis: There isn’t much in the way of controversy here. It’s hard to imagine any of these guys being claimed on waivers this early in the offseason. It would be nice to keep Hildenberger and Stewart in the organization as backup options with each getting another chance to regain some of their form.

Any or all of the six would be welcomed back — via minor-league deals or those unable to refuse their assignment — so that’s just something to keep in mind.

Free-agent 40-man removals
  • SP Kyle Gibson
  • SP Jake Odorizzi
  • SP Michael Pineda
  • RP Sergio Romo
  • C Jason Castro
  • 2B Jonathan Schoop

Analysis: These are the six guys who’ll file for free agency right after the World Series. Nothing is surprising here. The Twins will likely have discussions with the reps for all six, but there’s no real reason to strike a deal this late in the game.

Qualifying Offers
  • Kyle Gibson –  No
  • Jake Odorizzi – Yes
  • Michael Pineda – Yes

Analysis: As late as July Gibson might have been a soft yes, but his late-season slide and health issues put him firmly in the no camp. Odorizzi and Pineda are easy yes offers in my estimation.

Options
  • Nelson Cruz’s $12 million option for 2020 exercised
  • Martin Perez’s $7.5 million option for 2020 declined, $500k buyout paid

Analysis: Both are easy decisions. Perez started hot and faded badly. Perhaps he would sign the same deal from a year ago, which might make him interesting as a Jesse Chavez-style swingman, but we’re moving away from that for now. Cruz is worth every bit of the $12 million and then some.

Arbitration-eligibles (via MLBTradeRumors)
  • Sam Dyson – $6.4m
  • Ehire Adrianza – $1.9m
  • C.J. Cron – $7.7m
  • Trevor May – $2.1m
  • Eddie Rosario – $8.9m
  • Miguel Sano – $5.9m
  • Byron Buxton – $2.9m
  • Taylor Rogers – $3.9m
  • Tyler Duffey – $1.1m
  • Jose Berrios – $5.4m
Non-tenders
  • Sam Dyson (re-sign to a one-year deal worth $2 million with team option for $5 million for 2021, structured as minor-league deal so he can be added to 60-day IL as soon as possible)
  • C.J. Cron

Analysis: Everyone except Dyson and Cron are easy decisions. Dyson, frankly, is also an easy one and it makes sense to bring him back a la the Pineda contract prior to the 2018 season. Pay him a few bucks to heal up, and give him the chance to make back pretty much all the money he lost in 2020 between the two years if his healing has progressed far enough a year from now.

Cron is a nice enough player but there’s just no real reason for the Twins to pay him almost $8 million to play first base. They have the in-house talent to do that for less and would likely be similar, if not better production.

40-man Additions
  • 1B/OF Luke Raley
  • IF Travis Blankenhorn
  • SP Jhoan Duran
  • SP Luis Rijo

Analysis: The last four out were Tom Hackimer, Jovani Moran, Ryan Mason and Wander Javier. Moran, Mason and Hackimer are all intriguing relievers with good numbers in and around the Double-A level, but it wouldn’t be catastrophic to lose any of them in the Rule 5 draft. Javier is way more name than game at this point. After missing 2018 due to injury, he hit just .177/.278/.323 in 80 games at Cedar Rapids this season.

We’ll know a lot more about Javier one year from now, when the decision to add him to the roster comes up again. He’s not going in the Rule 5 draft.

Existing 40-man Roster Before Free Agency/Trades
  • Starting pitchers (9): Alcala, Berrios, Dobnak, Gonsalves, Graterol, Romero, Smeltzer, Thorpe, Duran, Rijo
  • Relievers (6): Duffey, Littell, May, Rogers, Stashak, Poppen
  • Catchers (2): Garver, Astudillo
  • Infielders (7): Adrianza, Arraez, Gonzalez, Gordon, Polanco, Sano, Blankenhorn
  • Outfielders (6): Buxton, Cave, Kepler, Rosario, Wade, Raley
  • Designated hitter (1): Cruz
  • Total players on 40-man roster: 32

Analysis: This is what you want — a talented roster with room to improve. There’s also plenty of young talent that won’t be relied upon heavily up front to help this team build on a surprising 101-win season in 2019.

Coaching Staff
  • Hire Gabe Kapler as bench coach

Analysis: It seems like a foregone conclusion that someone will hire Derek Shelton as a manager, and good for him. He deserves it. The Twins can scoop up the deposed Phillies manager, a notoriously detail-oriented baseball man who was teammates with Rocco Baldelli in the final year of their career in Tampa.

It makes sense for both sides. The Twins aren’t forced to shove a square peg into a round hole from within the organization, and Kapler gets a parachute landing into a good spot while he rebuilds his resume for his next managerial gig. He’s also spent lots of time in Montana — I believe he has or had a second home there — so he’s not completely opposed to the idea of living in the midwest.

I get the sense that Baldelli, like Joe Maddon before him, is going to become the kind of manager who grows a tree from which coaches are pillaged. Baldelli, Kevin Cash, Davey Martinez, Charlie Montoyo and others I’m sure I’ve missed have come from the Maddon tree.

Will this happen? Probably not. They’ll probably hire someone we’ve never heard of — just like they did with James Rowson, Shelton and Tony Diaz.

Those all worked out, too.

Trades
  • Trade Eddie Rosario, Brent Rooker and Ben Rortvedt to the Colorado Rockies for right-handed pitcher Jon Gray

Analysis: This wasn’t popular when I suggested it back in late August. Now it’s almost the majority opinion, it seems like. It’s a pretty simple concept. While Rosario is a fine enough player, he’s going to become superfluous in the near future with Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach coming up in the pipeline, he’s hard-pressed to sustain an on-base percentage much over .300 and his defense is nothing to write home about.

He’s basically Randal Grichuk by another name. And while Grichuk signed a lucrative extension with the Blue Jays, that’s not happening with Rosario in Minnesota. But it should suggest he’ll have at least some value on the trade market. Moving him to Colorado — which gets Ian Desmond out of the outfield and maybe even the starting lineup — with Rooker and Rortvedt makes sense on a few fronts.

It’s not totally clear what the Rockies are trying to do, but Rosario-Dahl-Blackmon — with Raimel Tapia mixed in as well — is a fairly good outfield. Rooker can be the first baseman in-waiting behind Daniel Murphy, and Rortvedt can firmly wedge himself into the catching conversation behind Tony Wolters.

We’re not particularly slavish to the pieces moved behind Rosario. Maybe the Rockies prefer Nick Gordon, Gilberto Celestino, Griffin Jax or someone like that. Maybe they want to take a shot on Wander Javier?

The crux of the deal is moving Rosario for a controllable upper-mid-rotation pitcher like Gray. Gray is coming off a solid season in Colorado — 3.84 ERA/4.06 FIP in 150 innings with 150 strikeouts — and seems like the kind of arm who could flourish under the tutelage of Wes Johnson.

He’s under team control until the 2021-22 offseason, giving the Twins two years of club control to work with at reasonable prices.

Free Agency
  • Re-sign Michael Pineda who accepts qualifying offer (one year, $18ish million prorated)
  • Re-sign Kyle Gibson (one year, $4 million)
  • Sign starting pitcher Zack Wheeler (four years, $90 million)
  • Sign relief pitcher Will Smith (two years, $25 million)
  • Sign catcher Martin Maldonado (one year, $3 million)
  • Sign right fielder Avisail Garcia (one year, $8 million with 2021 team option for $10 million, $1 million buyout)
  • Sign infielder David Freese (one year, $4 million)
  • Sign starting pitcher Kevin Gausman (one year, $8 million with 2021 team option for $12 million, $1 million buyout)
  • Re-sign Sergio Romo (minor-league deal worth $2 million if/when contract is purchased on final day of Spring Training)

Analysis: Pineda wants to come back, and isn’t going to get a better one-year offer anywhere else. So why not use Gibson for the season’s first six weeks until Pineda is back, and then let the final rotation go to Gausman or Gibson — whoever is pitching better. That’s not leaning too heavily on the Devin Smeltzers or Randy Dobnaks of the world, and it’s pretty likely that Brusdar Graterol will start next season in the minors unless there’s a significant belief he’s a reliever moving forward.

Wheeler is the big-ticket item here. It just doesn’t seem likely that the Twins will spend big on Gerrit Cole, and an approach where they spread the money out a bit more probably makes more sense in the medium- and long-term. Cole also seems almost certain to sign with the Angels or Yankees if he leaves the Astros.

After going from big-time prospect to injury-prone, Wheeler has come all the way back and at 29 is coming off back-to-back seasons of 4.0-plus WAR via Fangraphs. He was on the cusp of 5.0 this season, and it’s possible there’s still more in there given his penchant for inducing grounders earlier in his career. He doesn’t walk anyone, gets strikeouts and keeps the ball on the ground — the Holy Trinity for starting pitchers.

Smith has been absolutely terrific the last two seasons, and the sweet spot for relievers lately seems to be about two years. In that case, the Twins can bump the AAV up a little bit and get Taylor Rogers some assistance on the back end — also from the left side. One lefty of this caliber is a matchup nightmare. Two is simply unfair.

The idea of possibly bringing back Jason Castro as the backup to Mitch Garver makes sense on the surface, but he played well enough to start somewhere this season. My money is on the Angels. So the Twins then can bring in Maldonado, a low-key wizard behind the plate and the second coming of Jose Molina/Henry Blanco.

He can’t really hit — he’s got some pop but honestly is just not very good at the plate — but he’s so good behind the plate it doesn’t really matter. Maybe the Twins re-visit the idea of signing Robinson Chirinos, but he deserves a shot to start somewhere as well. The same can’t be said for Maldonado, who is like Jeff Mathis in Tony Eusebio’s body.

Garcia might seem like a strange choice to replace Rosario in the outfield, but a glance at their stat lines doesn’t really reveal much in the way of difference. Both hit the ball out of the park, are allergic to walking and are not necessarily defensive studs — though Rosario took a significant step back this season.

Garcia, meanwhile, is a Statcast darling. He hits the ball hard and is absurdly fast — which most people might not realize.

Take a look, y’all:

(image credit: MLB, Statcast)

He’s got all the raw tools one could want in a player, and is coming off a season of relative obscurity in Tampa. Scooping him up on a one-year deal with an option carries almost no risk. If he balls out, he’s got a ton of value with the option next winter. If he isn’t good, he can be DFA’d or non-tendered in the meantime.

And if Kirilloff or Larnach force the Twins’ hand, well….that’s a good problem to have.

Adding a 26th man to the roster allows the Twins to get a bit more creative with their bench. If you believe in postseason “it” factors or you simply want someone to crush lefties, Freese is your guy. Freese, who turns 37 early next season, would be looking for another chance at a ring — which the Twins can reasonably say they’re in contention for — and would be especially useful off the bench after hitting an insane .315/.403/.599 for the Dodgers this season, almost exclusively against left-handed pitching while playing first base. This also allows the Twins to stash Willians Astudillo in Rochester.

It’s hard to envision a scenario where the Reds go to arbitration with Gausman, who is expected to get around $10.6 million this time around. Maybe new pitching guru Kyle Boddy has some ideas, and if that’s the case, there are plenty of similar guys to look at like Alex Wood or Michael Wacha. Each could be had for similar money, if not less.

Finally, the Twins should be willing to bring back the uber-popular Romo, who got emotional in the clubhouse when asked if he’d like to be back in 2020. He said he felt very welcomed in the short two months he spent with the team, and that he’d love to be back if they’d have him. Signing him to a minor-league deal allows the team to work through some roster stuff in spring training with a cramped 40-man roster, but he should be almost a shoo-in to make the team.

Romo on a minor-league deal and Pineda on the restricted list keeps the 40-man roster at exactly 40, I believe.

Starting Lineup (9)
  • C – Mitch Garver ($600,000)
  • 1B – Marwin Gonzalez ($9 million)
  • 2B – Luis Arraez ($575,000)
  • 3B – Miguel Sano ($5.9 million)
  • SS – Jorge Polanco ($3.96 million)
  • LF – Max Kepler ($6.25 million)
  • CF – Byron Buxton ($2.9 million)
  • RF – Avisail Garcia ($8 million)
  • DH – Nelson Cruz ($12 million)

Total salary: $49.185 million

Analysis: This is almost an exact replica of the Bomba Squad, with more positional flexibility and hopefully a healthy Byron Buxton. 10 out of 10, would recommend.

Bench (4)
  • C – Martin Maldonado ($3 million)
  • IF – David Freese ($4 million)
  • IF/OF – Ehire Adrianza ($1.9 million)
  • OF – Jake Cave ($575,000)

Total salary: $9.475 million

Analysis: What else do you want your bench to do? You’ve got some left- and right-handed pop and defense up the middle. There’s no speed, but Rocco’s guys don’t steal bases anyway.

Rotation (5)
  • SP1 – Zack Wheeler ($25 million)
  • SP2 – Jose Berrios ($5.4 million)
  • SP3 – Jon Gray ($5.6 million)
  • SP4 – Kevin Gausman ($8 million)
  • SP5 – Kyle Gibson/Michael Pineda ($18.5 million)

Total salary: $62.5 million

Analysis: Imagine this as Wheeler-Berrios-Gray-Pineda-Graterol next September. That’s pretty exciting. Either way, there’s still room for guys to force their way up like Jordan Balazovic or even El Randy Dobnak or Devin Smeltzer while still not relying on them too heavily. My theory is that a team as good as the Twins this year can’t go into next year with many, if any, question marks on their roster. This would be a good way to do that. The loser of the Gibson/Gausman battle would just go to the bullpen.

Bullpen (8)
  • RP1 – Taylor Rogers – $3.9 million
  • RP2 – Will Smith – $12.5 million
  • RP3 – Tyler Duffey – $1.1 million
  • RP4 – Trevor May – $2.1 million
  • RP5 – Zack Littell – $575,000
  • RP6 – Sergio Romo – $2 million
  • RP7 – Cody Stashak – $575,000
  • RP8 – Fernando Romero – $575,000

Total salary: $23.325 million

Analysis: This is primarily a group of holdovers with a little — okay, a lot — of help from the outside. It might not make people think of the Yankees, but these guys can get it done. And as always, it leaves room for a guy or two to pop up and make some noise. Who thought the youngsters who’d emerge this year were Stashak and Littell instead of Romero? Bullpens are weird.

Additional money considerations
  • Dyson’s salary while on 60-day IL: $2 million
  • Perez’s buyout: $500,000

Total salary: $2.5 million

Analysis: The Twins have enough invested in Dyson that it doesn’t make sense to let him go for nothing. Let him heal with your strength and conditioning people, get used to the city and the club and help you in 2021. You’ve always got to have an eye to the future.

SUMMARY

Grand total salary: $146.985 million, up $27.3 million from $119,641,933 on Opening Day, 2019

Analysis: This team might not win 101 games again but they’ll be a nightmare matchup for whoever that face in October.

Salary data from MLBTradeRumors, Cot’s Contracts (Baseball Prospectus). Roster information from Roster Resource. Stats from Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference and Statcast.