Minnesota Twins: Rating the Stability of Each Position heading into 2022
By Otto Johnson
The Minnesota Twins are entering the offseason with some serious question marks to answer before the 2022 season. Some of these questions could lead to the 2022 team looking completely different from the one currently on the field now, with only a few players seeming like 100% locks for the roster next year.
The Twins have a couple of positions that the team won’t mess with too much this offseason, while there are others that are certain to look completely different in the offseason to come. With questions about the team’s direction in what should be an interesting offseason, we’re going to break down how stable each position is going into the offseason.
With the offseason looming, we rate how stable each position is for the Minnesota Twins.
We’ll look at each position on the diamond, from catcher to right field, with pitching being split up into the rotation and bullpen (we won’t look at designated hitter because that won’t be as clear-cut). With that out of the way, let’s get into it, starting with the backstop.
The only concerns for stability at this position starts and ends with Mitch Garver. Garver is still one of the ten best catchers in baseball when healthy, but his health and the Twins competition status has led to rumors he could be traded. This makes things complicated.
If the Twins do the right thing and try and compete in 2022, they won’t trade Garver and the stability of the catching position is clear. Garver is the guy, Ryan Jeffers is second, and Ben Rortvedt is available if needed, giving the Twins one of the best backstops in baseball. Unfortunately, the lack of direction makes this murkier than it should be.
This one is very easy, with little question over who will play first base next year. Miguel Sanó has bounced back after a sluggish start, and a likely platoon between Sano and a returning Alex Kirilloff seems likely. Whoever doesn’t play first will likely spend a good chunk of time at designated hitter.
This will be the last year of Sano’s contract (there’s no way his $14 million option gets picked up), but barring a stunning trade or surprise signing, this position is pretty much set for the Twins going into next year.
This is the easiest call on the roster. Jorge Polanco is the team’s best player and moving away from the keystone would be a shocker giving his success in 2021. Luis Arraez as the utility man will get a lot of his at bats here if they put Polanco at DH. Nick Gordon is a lock for next year’s roster too.
Whatever way you slice it, second base is extremely stable. Even if injuries take place, we know who the backup is and who the backup’s backup is. With Jose Miranda waiting in the wings, we know who the backup’s backup’s backup is. That’s a set group for the 2022 Minnesota Twins.
This group is pretty similar to catcher, but the likelihood that the starter gets traded is even higher. Josh Donaldson has been good in 2021, but if the Minnesota Twins are intent on a rebuild, Donaldson would be one of the first names out of the door. He’s about to turn 36, and his age and contract don’t really fit with a rebuild.
If he is traded, Luis Arraez and Jose Miranda would get a majority of the games at the hot corner, so we do know what the depth chart will mostly look like. It will all come down to if Donaldson (who has become a better leader in the clubhouse) is moved.
This one is the most interesting positions on the roster. Andrelton Simmons has been a disaster in 2021 and won’t be brought back, but there isn’t anyone on the roster to take his place. Polanco and Gordon have played short in the past, but neither should start more than 30 games there in a season.
In the system, Royce Lewis won’t be ready to step in on Opening Day after missing all of 2020 and 2021 with a torn ACL. Austin Martin needs more time in the minors, and may not be the answer there anyway. The Twins have moved Jose Miranda way from the position altogether. They’re going to have to bring in someone from the outside.
Trevor Story, Corey Seager, and Carlos Correa are out of the question, as all three are far too expensive and wouldn’t want to come to Minnesota anyway. Javier Baez is probably in that group too. They could go after Marcus Semien again, but if they want a cheap holdover, Jonathan Villar and Freddy Galvis could be options.
I expect the Twins to punt on 2022, trade Donaldson, Garver, and others and add a Galvis or Jose Iglesias until Lewis is ready to take over. Whatever they choose to do, this is the position to watch this offseason.
This position was supposed to be taken care of by Trevor Larnach, but Larnach has had easily the worst year of his pro career in 2021, struggling at both Triple-AAA and in the majors. I expect him to bounce back and be the player we know he could be in 2022, but the Twins may feel a safer play is an option.
Larnach has played the most games in left this season (60), but Jake Cave (33), Brent Rooker (32), Luis Arraez (27), and Rob Refsnyder (20) have all at least played 20 games in what has been a turnstile position for the Minnesota Twins (Do we actually miss Eddie Rosario???).
There are a lot of outfielders in free agency that could be had for a cheap one year deal, but Larnach has more potential than all of them. The Twins don’t want to bring in a guy here when there are far more pressing concerns.
Look for Larnach to be the guy here with Arraez, Miranda, and Kirilloff spelling him every once in a while. One of Cave, Rooker, or a free agent signing (Eddie Rosario reunion???) will make the team next year as the fourth outfielder, but I think the Twins are fairly set in their plans for left field in 2022.
For the past six years, the Minnesota Twins and their fans have counted on Byron Buxton trotting out to center field to start Spring Training and if he was healthy for opening day, he’d be there too. For the first time since 2015, Buxton isn’t expected to be the Twins’ Opening Day center fielder next season.
Despite Buxton telling fans and the media that he wants to be back, his agents and the Twins have been unable to come to an agreement on a new deal, with the Twins saying a trade seems likely for the former Number 2 overall pick.
As disheartening as that is to hear, we’re operating under the idea that one of baseball’s best and most oft-injured talents will be traded this offseason, throwing the stability of this position into chaos.
The market for center fielders isn’t very good outside of Starling Marte, and I don’t see the Twins meeting his asking price. The best course of action would be looking within. Both Austin Martin and Royce Lewis could be ticked for center field if shortstop doesn’t work, but there are a couple of options that are ready to play in 2022.
Max Kepler isn’t a great center fielder, but he can play there (same with Jake Cave), meaning Gilberto Celestino would probably be the best bet. After a rough first stint in the majors, Celestino has been excellent at Triple-AAA and would be the best candidate for the job if the Twins don’t bring back an MLB center fielder for Buxton.
The bottom line here is that we have no idea what will happen in center field for the Minnesota Twins in 2022. Buxton could be dealt in the offseason, the team could keep him and trade him midseason, or he could get the extension he wants and play out his career here. The only thing that keeps this from a zero is the fact that there are options if Buck is moved.
Alright. That’s a lot of turmoil. Let’s get to a place where there isn’t as much. Max Kepler has been the Twins’ primary right fielder since 2016, and with a contract that spans until 2023, I don’t see that changing soon.
Kepler struggled in 2021, posting the worst average and on-base percentage of his career, but he was still a model defender when healthy and will have played in 70% of the team’s games for the sixth straight season. Alex Kirilloff is clearly pushing him to get more time in right field, but the team correctly sees his future more at first base.
There’s been some quiet rumors that he could be moved, and I think it could be a big boost if they opt for the rebuild, but there are too many other issues for the Twins to worry about right field when Kepler and Kirilloff are healthy.
This stability here is a bit of a surprise, but when you think about it, it makes sense. The back of the Twins’ bullpen is mostly intact. Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, and Jon Gant will all make it through the offseason to start the final year of their contracts here. Caleb Thielbar has three years left. Alex Colomé’s bounceback means he’ll likely be back too.
Cody Stashak and Jorge Alcala should both be back and some combination of Luke Farrell, Danny Coulombe, Juan Minaya, and Ralph Garza will be back. That’s eleven relievers right there, and with the Twins usually only taking 8-12 to start a season, I don’t expect much change.
The team could opt to let Colomé walk, and at least one of Farrell, Coulombe, Minaya, and Garza will start in Triple-AAA. That said, Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer, and Lewis Thorpe are all still hanging around, so I wouldn’t expect the Twins to have more than one or two new relievers added to the bullpen.
Imagine what this group would be like if Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober hadn’t emerged as viable options. Yikes. The Minnesota Twins were already going to have to add three new starters in 2022 coming into the year with Jose Berrios and Kenta Maeda the only starters under contract for next year, but with Berrios traded and Maeda out for most (if not all of 2022), they’re back to that same spot.
Ryan is best-served as the fourth starter in a rotation until he can prove he belongs at the top (he’s off to a good start). Bailey Ober is a fourth or fifth starter until he can show the same thing. Luckily for the Twins, the market is full of top of the rotation guys.
Adding one of Kevin Gausman, Zack Grienke, Robby Ray, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman,or Justin Verlander with a couple more solid secondary starters (a reunion with Michael Pineda makes sense as a holdover) would be ideal. Adding two starters and letting Dobnak, Smeltzer, and Thorpe fight for a spot is another option.
The only thing we know is that we know nothing. There are several prospects that will make an appearance in the rotation soon, but the Twins need to get the offseason move rights to bring stability to a group that sorely lack it.