2016 Minnesota Twins free agency preview


Editor’s note: This is the final of a six-part segment detailing the Minnesota Twins and the 2016 off season. Part: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Happy free agency, Minnesota Twins.

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Saturday marks five days past the end of the World Series, and players are free to sign wherever they please. As I’ve previewed in the five earlier installments of the off-season outlook, there is room to improve everywhere for the Twins in 2016, coming off a fairly unconvincing 83 wins a year ago. From my perspective, the wish list looks as such (trades not included):

  • Improve the bullpen without spending big
  • Upgrade behind the plate
  • Make offers for a front-end starter or ace to bolster the rotation
  • Avoid unnecessary signing of a top shortstop

For the purpose of this article, I’ll take you through which Twins from last year are free agents, and go through a number of players swirling in the rumor mill and those who would be a good fit for Minnesota’s need and budget, along with analysis of where the player’s other options are at.

A full list of free agents is available here.

Free agents

Mike Pelfrey, Neal Cotts, Brian Duensing, Blaine Boyer, Aaron Thompson and Eric Fryer: Hard to imagine anyone but Cotts receiving an offer to return. Pelfrey will land somewhere on a deal to be in a starting rotation. Cotts is a left-handed bullpen arm who I suspect becomes a fall-back option if other relief options sign elsewhere. Interest in him around the league will be generally low-to-none at all.

The targets

Oct 4, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters (32) stands at home plate during the eighth inning against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles won 9-4. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Wieters (C, 2015 Team: Baltimore Orioles): Addressing the top need, Wieters would be a full-time upgrade from Kurt Suzuki and Chris Herrmann. At 29, he’s a Scott Boras client looking for his first big payday. His 2011-13 stretch was pretty impressive, and he missed time with Tommy John surgery in 2014-15. Caution should be noted about his frame, which can be prone to eventual nagging injury. But all catchers don’t (and don’t have to) transition to the first base, but his size warrants concern he may need to shift. Baltimore made him a qualifying offer, which means the Twins will lose a draft pick signing him. Potential suitors: Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Houston Astros, Colorado Rockies.

Mar 2, 2015; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski (15) pose for photo day at Wide World of Sports. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A.J. Pierzynski (C, 2015 Team: Atlanta Braves): A reunion with Pierzynksi isn’t necessarily the Plan B option. He boosted his value in 2015 with a strong all-around performance. Minnesota knows what its getting with Pierzynski, whose brazeness settled down with age. He turns 39 in December and made $2 million last season with the Braves. There will be short list of teams pursuing him, including Atlanta, where there is a mutual interest. He makes sense with Minnesota or another American League team that can spell him in the field with DH reps. Potential suitors: Twins, Atlanta, Kansas City Royals.

Mar 1, 2015; Viera, FL, USA; Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond (20) poses for media day portraits at Space Coast Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Ian Desmond (SS, 2015 Team: Washington Nationals): As the top shortstop on the market his name is bound to come up with the Twins at some point. He’s coming off his worst season since 2011, hitting .233/.290/.384 with 19 home runs and 13 steals. He was a 20/20 hitter every year since 2012. Desmond tops a class that lacks consistency, and as I’ve written before, I think Eduardo Escobar did just enough in the second half to warrant no high-priced competition. Desmond is due for a rebound season if he can shut out contract expectations. He tends to go from extremely hot to extremely cold very quickly in the span of a season. There will be a line of teams after him with deeper pocketbooks than the Twins, and more room for error if Desmond has another down season. Desmond received a qualifying offer and will cost a non-protected draft pick. Potential suitors: New York Mets, San Diego Padres, Chicago White Sox, Seattle Mariners

May 2, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (13) works out prior to the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Asdrubal Cabrera (SS, 2015 Team: Tampa Bay Rays): I’m not really sure where the market fits for Cabrera yet. We talk a lot about waiting for a domino in the market to fall and Cabrera, 30, epitomizes that. He signed a 1-year deal in Tampa and played well enough to earn a multi-year contract. He’ll have to wait for Desmond, but still isn’t a fit in Minnesota, which has larger needs to fill for the cost. At a guesstimated $10M/year he’s pretty affordable, and being useful at second base only widens his possibilities as a secondary option to teams missing on Ben Zobrist, Howie Kendrick or Daniel Murphy. Potential suitors: Washington Nationals, San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox

Feb 28, 2015; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Joakim Soria (38) poses during Photo day at Joker Merchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Joakim Soria (RHP, 2015 Team: Pittsburgh Pirates): This one comes from FanGraphs’ David Cameron. Soria is also predicted to be a popular bullpen arm. The idea is for him to fill out the back of the bullpen leading to Glen Perkins. It is possible the Twins pass if the price surpasses Cameron’s 3-year/$21M prediction. It is also possible with arms like Nick Burdi and Jake Reed tapping on the door, the team passes on any pricey, longer-term contracts.  Soria, 31, pitched well for the Detroit Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates last year in both setup and closing roles. Potential suitors: Twins, Pirates, Tigers, Houston Astros, New York Mets

Feb 27, 2015; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Ryan Madson poses for a portrait during photo day at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Madson (RHP, 2015 Team: Kansas City Royals): At 35, he’s coming off a productive season. A cheaper option than Soria, with various sites having him on a 3-year/$15M deal. Again, this would be another setup option ahead of Perkins. He hadn’t pitched since 2011, but produced at a high-level for the Royals, posting a 2.13 ERA with a 3.09 FIP, 8.2 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9, all in line with career marks. Potential suitors: Twins, Houston Astros, Detroit Tigers, New York Mets

Feb 26, 2015; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Houston Astros pitcher Tony Sipp poses for a picture during photo day at Osceola County Stadium Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Sipp (LHP, 2015 Team: Houston Astros): Needed more in the bullpen is a left-handed arm besides Perkins, and not named Cotts. At 32, he’s the best lefty reliever about to hit the market, and does so coming off his best season to date with K/9 and BB/9 rates right near career average, and 1.0 WAR value in 2015. A $5M AAV on Sipp makes him annually cheaper than Soria, and provides the left-handed arm Minnesota, and other teams lack at the big-league level and lower. Potential suitors: Twins, Houston Astros, San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates

Feb 26, 2015; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Antonio Bastardo (59) poses for photo day at Pirate City. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Antonio Bastardo (LHP, 2015 Team: Pittsburgh Pirates): A younger, cheaper version of Sipp. Bastardo walks more but has similar rates across the board. At 30, a left-handed arm with a nice K/9 that would fit into a lot bullpens, Minnesota included. Expect him to be Plan B for Sipp contenders not looking to break the bank on relievers. Potential suitors: Twins, Houston Astros, San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates

Mar 3, 2015; Ft. Myers, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins right fielder Shane Robinson (21) poses during photo day at Hammond Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Shane Robinson (OF, 2015 Team: Minnesota Twins): I’m among those a little hazy on why Robinson was let  go of in the first place. He’s good defensively and versatile, and could fill in at some different spots in the outfield. Minnesota is said to be open to a reunion. Robinson isn’t expected to generate a lot of interest, and it could be a two-team race. He was well-liked with the St. Louis Cardinals, as noted in the link, and in Minnesota. For the Twins, he’s another option in an ever-fluid outfield. In St. Louis, Robinson would serve as Matt Holliday and Jason Heyward insurance. Potential suitors: Twins, St. Louis

Byung-ho Park (1B, 2015 Team: Nexen Heros (Korea)): Interest in Park, who was posted by Korea and bids are due today, is rumored by a few teams at this point. He hit 105 home runs in two seasons in Korea, but very few sluggers from Korea and Japan have translated the same pop to the U.S. Park is already 29, so he doesn’t have the luxury of a year or two to adjust like a prospects do. It should be noted that Ryan grabbed Miguel Sano and Max Kepler in the international market. Potential suitors: Twins, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Colorado Rockies, Baltimore Orioles, St. Louis Cardinals, Seattle Mariners, Pittsburgh Pirates

Update: The Nexen Heros accepted a $12.85M posting fee for Park to an undisclosed team Friday.

Apr 28, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Colorado Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Morneau (1B/DH, 2015 Team: Colorado Rockies): The chatter will be at fever pitch levels among the Twins faithful because of a past reunion with Torii Hunter and a rumored attempt with Pierzynski. He said he’s “open to anything” in free agency. Morneau’s potential return comes on the heels of some scary health and concussion problems. He missed 174 games between 2010-11 with a concussion as a Twin, but played with few issues in 2012-14 between Minnesota and Colorado. He played in just 49 games last season because of another concussion. I wrote that Morneau could be a liability to his own health if he continues to play. There’s also an aspect of concussions in baseball correlating with hand-eye coordination that needs to be further studied to understand head injuries and their impact on hitters.  The Twins are already crowded at the corner infield spots, which is a problem when considering Park. Teams losing out on Park or with a left-handed platoon role at first could look into Morneau’s availability and interest. A return to the American League makes sense, unless a World Series contender presents itself. Potential suitors: Twins, Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles

Aug 23, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann (27) pitches against the Milwaukee Brewers in the second inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

One notable omission

Jordan Zimmermann (RHP, 2015 Team: Washington Nationals): I, in good conscience, couldn’t omit him from the list after pitching all fall for an effort toward him. I think I’ve been the biggest supporter and aggressor for the Twins to make a run at Zimmermann. Now, even I think its more of a pipe dream than reality. The simple fact is, the Twins aren’t going to step up and swing with the big boys. If they have the cash, they don’t have it in them to go for it, and have teams competing with more years and deeper pockets.

Jim Pohlad said he would do whatever it takes within reason to get back to winning divisions. He also said he’s not a fan of long-term contracts, but his comments suggested that is based on preference and not a team rule. But there’s no precedent in most of Twins history to suggest a top-5 free agent is theirs to be had. This is the best year for it with the class of starters available, and the class of prospects Minnesota has ready, or in the pipeline.

Here’s my final case: If the going price for Zimmermann, who turns 30 in May, is a 7-year/$140M ($20M AAV) contract, can Twins General Manager, with Pohlad behind him to boost payroll, get it done for a higher AAV, say 5/$11o-$120M or 6/$130-$150? Maybe. Potential suitors: Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers