Minnesota Twins: Breaking Down the Twins’ biggest Free Agency moves
By Dylan Loucks
Just about a month ago, most Minnesota Twins fans were up in arms with the roster yet to take shape, and with American League Central competitors in Cleveland and Chicago making notable moves, some Twins fans were a little worried. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine had been pretty active on the waiver wire and made some minor-league free agency deals, but it wasn’t enough.
That all changed with a two-week span of splash spending for the Twins, doling out roughly $40 million on five players and establishing themselves as the favorite to win the AL Central for the third year in a row.
The Minnesota Twins finally made the moves that fans had been clamoring for all season.
With pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training on Thursday, February 18th, and full team workouts scheduled to begin on Tuesday, February 23rd, we break down the highlights of the Minnesota Twins’ free agency signings.
Minnesota Twins: Free Agency
The Twins spent around $40 million on four arms and two bats to help bolster their lineup and rotation, all the while establishing themselves to repeat as AL Central Champions for the third year in a row. Here are those guys.
The Twins finalized a one-year contract worth $10.5 million for their new starting shortstop, Andrelton Simmons. With this signing, Jorge Polanco will likely move to second base, where he played throughout the minor leagues, and Luis Arraez will move to a Marwin Gonzalez-type utility role, where he’ll still be able to play almost every day.
Andrelton Simmons hit .297 in 30 games during the 60 game shortened season in 2020, but he’s only a career .269 hitter in nine years with the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Angels. His bat isn’t the main reason he was signed though. His defense is.
The Twins, who have lost 18 consecutive postseason games, added one of the best defensive shortstops in the MLB today and possibly one of the best in the history of baseball. Despite Jorge Polanco’s improved defense in 2020, this signing could’ve been a result of the Twins defensive mistakes against the Astros last year in the postseason.
In addition to four Gold Glove awards, Simmons also won the 2013 Platinum Glove for being the best defensive player in the National League. Simmons’ 191 defensive runs saved since 2011 are the most in the game, 56 more than the next player.
The Twins now have two former Platinum Glove winners at arguably the two most important positions on the diamond, center fielder Byron Buxton, captain of the outfield, and shortstop Andrelton Simmons, captain of the infield.
While not technically a free agent signing, the re-signing of Nelson Cruz is important enough to list here. The “Boomstick” is back to anchor the middle of the Twins lineup, as he has arguably been the Minnesota Twins’ best hitter over the past two years.
The Twins are hoping the 2021 season matches the level of his first two seasons in Minnesota, which may seem like a lot to be asking of the 40-year old designated hitter, but age hasn’t been that big of a factor for Cruz in either of the last two seasons.
On top of that, Cruz came relatively cheap. His one-year deal is worth $13 million, per Dan Hayes of The Athletic. But it comes with a club option for just $5.5 million and a minimal $1.25 million buyout if the Twins decline.
Cruz hit .303 with 16 home runs, 33 RBIs, and a career-high OPS+ (169) in the shortened 2020 season while also leading the Twins in the postseason with a .333 batting average, a .500 OBP and the only two RBI of the Twins postseason. It’s safe to say the 2020 Marvin Miller Man of Year is pretty important to this team.
The Minnesota Twins seem to like seasoned veterans. Two years ago, the team signed 38-year-old Nelson Cruz, last year it added 40-year-old Rich Hill, and now, the team has added another 38-year-old: starter J.A. Happ.
Happ likely slides into the Twins rotation as the number four starter behind Pineda, Maeda, and Berrios and figures to be joining the team as a replacement for another elder statesman in Hill. That’s an excellent role for him.
The Twins won’t be asking for much from Happ, as they have three solid starters before him, but they will ask for Happ to continue the moderate success he’s had over his career. Happ has posted an ERA under 3.75 in five of his past six seasons, all while staying relatively healthy.
The knock on the Twins for most of the 2000s and 2010s has been pitching, so the J.A. Happ signing may be a little disappointing to some who were looking for a “big-ticket” free agent like Trevor Bauer.
While that’s fun to dream about, the real-life Minnesota Twins held the league’s second-best ERA last season and are returning a Cy Young runner-up in Kenta Maeda, coupled with a very solid 2-3 duo in Berrios and Pineda. That’s not a bad start, so getting an above-average starter for $8 million should be considered a solid pickup for the Twins who really just needed depth.
The first of the Twins’ major bullpen additions, Hansel Robles was a pretty good pitcher from 2015-2019, but he comes to Minnesota as a reclamation project after he wrapped up the worst season of his career in 2020.
Last year, Robles appeared in 16 2/3 innings and posted an abysmal 10.26 ERA for the Los Angeles Angels. With Robles’ struggles last year, the Twins were able to find great value, signing the pitcher to a one-year deal for $2 million as a prove-it contract.
If Robles can put last year behind him and return his 2019 form, this signing would be excellent for the Twins, who have lost Trevor May to the Mets, Matt Wisler to the Giants, and Sergio Romo to the A’s. That doesn’t even account for Tyler Clippard, who remains unsigned but a reunion seems unlikely.
With 27 career saves and 40 career holds, Robles adds late-inning, high-leverage experience and could take a much-needed load off on Taylor Rogers. Hopefully the Minnesota Twins will use the same strategy that worked to revitalize Wisler, Ryne Harper, and Caleb Thielbar over the past two seasons.
It’s interesting that Sergio Romo’s club option for $5 million was declined by the Twins, who opted to sign former All-Star Alex Colome to a one-year deal worth the same $5 million. Then again, Colome is a much better pitcher.
Considered one of the most dominant relievers since 2016, Alex Colome has recorded 138 saves with a career 2.62 ERA. From 2016-2020, Colome has also led all right-handed relievers in win probability added per FanGraphs. To top it all off, Colome is coming off a sub -1.00 ERA at age 31, proving he’s not slowing down.
Now for the part that will really help the Twins. Alex Colome has spent the last two seasons as the White Sox closer, converting 42 out of 46 save chances with a 2.27 ERA. In the shortened 2020 season Colome posted a 0.81 ERA, putting himself in contention for the title of the league’s top closer. He could really help Taylor Rogers and expand bullpen options.
The White Sox replaced him with former Twin Liam Hendriks, and Colome hit the free-agent market. Despite his impressive season and track record, he settled for a one year deal after a strong push from the Twins. This is a total steal.
Likely the last move the Twins will make this offseason, Matt Shoemaker is an oft-injured but very talented starter who will make just $2 million for the team in 2021. The 34-year-old has made just 18 starts over the past three years, and while that’s not a lot, he has a 3.77 ERA and 8.5 SO/9 over that span.
The Twins probably expect Shoemaker to make around twelve starts and offer up an ERA around 4.00, helping keep Randy Dobnak in the long relief role for most of the year and keeping a spot warm for Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran. This is a great low-risk deal, which is the story of the team’s offseason.