All offseason, Diamond Digest writers will be taking a look at each team’s 2020 season and looking forward at what moves each team might have to make to set themselves up for improvement in 2021. Today, Aidan Bimberg and Britt Telshaw take a look at the Minnesota Twins!
It’s been over a month since the Twins lost to the sub .500 Houston Astros in the playoffs, which extended their postseason losing streak to 19 straight games. Now, we’re not exactly sure what happened immediately following their elimination, but let’s imagine that the Twins staff rounded up the club, sat them down, and rolled in a TV cart before flipping to an image of Captain America.
“So. You lost another playoff series. You messed up!”
Such is life this century with the Twins organization. Minnesota has not won a single playoff game since 2004. Everything about their postseason ordeals just seems routine and mundane at this point – aside from not losing to the Yankees this time, at least.
2020 seemed like the perfect year to flip the script. A 60 game season where nothing was traditional – momentum building after overtaking the White Sox for the division lead to end the season, a chance to set aside the mind games involving playoff woes – yet here we are, looking to see what can give the Twins hope going into 2021.
2020-2021 Season in Review
2020 Record: 36-24, AL Central Champions
Team MVP: DH Nelson Cruz
Team Cy Young: RHP Kenta Maeda
Biggest Positive Surprise: RHP Matt Wisler
Biggest Negative Surprise: C Mitch Garver
First of all, it’s hard to knock a lot of players for their performances this year with it being 60 games and a handful of Twins dealing with intermittent injuries. Garver, Josh Donaldson, Jake Odorizzi, and even Jorge Polanco were not 100% through the shortened season. Garver fought through intercostal strains, which are intensely unforgiving on a position like catcher. While he only batted .167 this year, Garver had much higher expectations than most Twins after winning the silver slugger at his catcher position for 2019. There’s no doubt that Garver will come back stronger in 2021 with ample time to recover.
Meanwhile, it’s evident that the two MVPs for the Twins this year are the most hungry of the bunch, something to hopefully see trickle down to other players to start next year.
After being traded away from the eventual World Series champion Dodgers, Kenta Maeda proved he could not only break the rotation, but his fire led him to solidify him as the Twins’ ace going into next season. Maeda made significant leaps this season in lowering his walk totals (1.35 BB/9) and stranding runners on base (80.2% LOB).
Nelson Cruz has also found his fountain of youth (probably by purifying himself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka) since joining the club. The 39-year-old continued his torrid pace by hitting .303 and leading the Twins with 16 homers in 53 games.
One other bright spot in an already terrific bullpen was reliever Matt Wisler. In 18 games for the Twins out of the pen, Wisler threw 25 and a third innings with an ERA of 1.07. He was also second to only Trevor May on the team in strikeouts per 9 innings (12.4). Not a bad addition this season for a guy with a career ERA near the 5.00 mark.
2020-2021 Offseason Preview
Areas of Greatest Need: DH, Starting Pitching, Experience/Veteran Leadership
Simply put, if the Twins don’t re-sign Nelson Cruz, they will lose their best hitter. He led the Twins in OPS+ in both 2018 and 2019 and was responsible for two of the seven hits the Twins managed against the Astros. Plus, despite being a DH, Cruz still has value when he’s not holding a bat due to his locker room presence and how he’s mentored Miguel Sano. If he walks, there will be a Nelson Cruz-shaped hole in the hearts of Twins fans.
Among other players, there are two of the Twins’ possible starters in that of Rich Hill and Jake Odorizzi, one of their better relievers in Sergio Romo, and their main utility player in that of Marwin Gonzalez. The Twins will need to fill one of their rotation spots through either trade or free agency or risk giving a rotation spot to Devin Smeltzer. Taking the $5,000,000 club option for Romo might be expected in a normal offseason, but the lost revenue from the 2020 season likely led to the Twins’ decision to decline. Gonzalez will be missed if he leaves because his presence is the main reason Sano could stay at 1st base when Donaldson got injured. Odorizzi, while effective for the Twins, may gather some good interest in clubs once the dust settles for the Trevor Bauer sweepstakes, and Odorizzi’s price might run steep as a result.
As for Trevor May, it may hurt the Twins a bit more than somebody like a 37-year-old Romo, but the fact is other teams may want to pay May more than what the Twins are willing to spend since May could be a strong late reliever elsewhere. Minnesota can stand to lose May since they’ll have an above-average bullpen even if they lose a few pieces in free agency.
Cruz: 2 years, $25,000,000
Many anticipate Cruz’s desire to continue playing in Minnesota, and Minnesota should want Cruz to play. $12.5 million AAV is in line with what he is expected to get paid, but there’s a chance it could go a bit cheaper due to lost 2020 revenues and mutual interest between Cruz and the club. Giving Cruz a two-year deal does have the risk of blowing up if Father Time reaches Cruz in 2021, but has the *niche* benefit of two years of Nelson Freakin’ Cruz.
LeMahieu: 3 years, $65,000,000
LeMahieu has a high chance of returning to the Yankees, but if that fails for whatever reason, he would be a significant improvement to what the Twins got out of Marwin Gonzalez. Both of the previous two years, Gonzalez – perhaps missing those trash cans back in Houston – was below average in OPS+, posting 94 in 2019 and 68 in 2020. In contrast, LeMahieu went from an impressive 135 in 2019 to an AL-leading 177 in 2020. Demand for such an accomplished hitter will be high league-wide, but the Twins could take a chance at a lockdown infielder for their lineup.
Profar: 1 year, $6,000,000
Marwin Gonzalez could be a spendy option to resign back as a utility player, and as a more realistic option to DJ LeMahieu, the Twins could shave some salary and still bring in a good all-around player in Jurickson Profar. Profar hit .278 with 7 homers, 25 RBI, and 7 steals in 56 games for the resurgent Padres last season. With Ehire Adrianza struggling last year and likely not being a viable everyday option, Profar could fit in well for the Twins, especially as insurance for any injuries that may occur in 2021.
Hill: 1 year, $8,000,000
Hill has been an above-average starter for several years and would either be the Twins #2 or #3 starter, depending on what you think of Jose Berrios. He is likely cheaper than what Odorizzi would be and would continue to be the most experienced pitcher on the Twins.
Kluber: 1 year, $8,000,000
If the Twins decide to part ways with Hill, one other option in getting a seasoned veteran is Corey Kluber. Kluber had a string of injuries during his quick tenure with the Texas Rangers and only pitched one inning in 2020, but there’s still a chance he could get back to his Cy Young form. Kluber will be 35 to start the 2021 season and would likely want to pitch for a contender since there might not be a team that will throw much money at him based on his likelihood to be on the IL. Even if Kluber is serviceable at best, he could still teach the young guys a thing or two.
Before you ask, “Byron Buxton is a good hitter and possibly the best defensive outfielder in baseball. Why trade him for a guy coming off his worst year and two relievers?” The answer is simple – experience.
Even though they both came up the same year, 2015, Bryant has more than twice the PAs that Buxton has (3252 versus 1504). Bryant has had enough ABs to qualify for the batting title in 4 years; Buxton has never qualified and has had only one year (2017) with at least 300 ABs. Bryant gets the Twins experience that they need to truly be competitive. This kind of deal would likely be contingent on Bryant being willing to play the outfield to some degree and at least being willing to discuss an extension. But that notable asterisk notwithstanding, the Cubs would be able to get rid of their Bryant problem while the Twins would have someone who has been the star player on a World Series team.
It’s also evident that the Twins have a log-jam in the outfield. Eddie Rosario has a good chance of staying around on arbitration, Max Kepler can still offer 30 dingers in a normal season, and there’s still players that will need playing time like Jake Cave and Alex Kirilloff. Buxton, while having a fantastic 2020 season, is still someone who could get injured in the blink of an eye. It may be a good business move for the Twins to get their bang for their Buxton as soon as they can.
With Tyler and Taylor Rogers, the Twins would have actual Twins on their roster! The Giants accept because everyone wants to see dreams come true.
2021 Projected Roster
1) Max Kepler CF
2) Josh Donaldson 3B
3) DJ LeMahieu 2B
4) Nelson Cruz DH
5) Kris Bryant RF
6) Eddie Rosario LF
7) Luis Arraez SS
8) Miguel Sano 1B
9) Mitch Garver C
- Rowan Wick
- Taylor Rogers
- Tyler Duffey
- Tyler Rogers
- Ryan Tepera
- Cody Stashak
- Matt Wisler
- Caleb Thielbar
- Jorge Alcala
DJ LeMahieu pipe dream withstanding, Polanco would be the odd man out of the opening day lineup, so Arraez would shift over. Maeda would continue to be the ace for the team as the other four just try to keep up. Finally, the bullpen would have solid guys top to bottom even without having to re-sign Romo, May, or Clippard.
While there are a few wishful thinking additions above, the reality is the Twins just need to strengthen a piece or two to become real contenders in 2021. If the season does end up being full-length, the Twins would be more than primed for the long-haul. Give some players like Mitch Garver or Jorge Polanco a full, uninterrupted spring training to get healthy and into the groove, and the Bomba Squad will be back into full swing.