2022 was a tale of two halves for the Minnesota Twins. In the opening months of the season, the team seemed destined to cruise past an imploding Detroit, sloppy Chicago, and hapless Cleveland. The team looked dominant.
In the second half, the Twins wilted in the dog days of summer, losing ground day by day until the Guardians surged past to capture the division crown, coasting to victory with a comfortable lead. Many things went wrong, but now as we wrap up the season and move into the offseason, questions loom, so I wanted to break a few down here.
Minnesota Twins Offseason Question No. 1: Should the team re-sign Carlos Correa?
Carlos Correa officially hits the free agent market with the season now wrapped up, and while he’s indicated his interest in a reunion, everyone knows the ball is in the Twins’ court. When asked about returning to the Twins his response was honest and forthright:
It’s understandable logic for a man making thirty-five million dollars, but the Twins budget is more like mine: You gotta’ wait for the good stuff to go on sale. Getting Correa was a shrewd move, a unique contract and a boon for both sides. Minnesota’s front office acquired a distressed asset, but in normal circumstances, Carlos isn’t considering the Twins.
Correa still had some stink from the cheating scandal and jumped into a market oversupplied with big name, big money shortstops. Corey Seager, Javier Báez, (Nominally) Marcus Semien and Trevor Story. Correa didn’t garner the offers he expected, and the Twins swooped in. Now Carlos wants his mega contract, one with long term security.
The Twins roster is just not in a stable enough place to justify investing over 200 million dollars in single player. I feel worse about the roster now than I did after disappointing in 2021. It’s bad business. I’d rather have the cap now and going forward.
The team will miss Carlos Correa’s leadership and attitude. He is a true professional, and a terrific mentor, but sometimes a great relationship just doesn’t work out due to poor timing. The Twins and Carlos are at different stages in their lives.
It will leave shortstop barren, but the market for shortstops is deep this year. When the merry-go-round stops, someone good and much more affordable will be left out in the cold. Targeting someone like Jose Iglesias would be a great move: sixty-five percent of the production for twenty-five percent of the cost. He’s a good player and allows the team to prepare for Royce Lewis’s return.
Minnesota Twins Offseason Question No. 2: Who is playing catcher for the Twins?
The catcher situation is a tough one for the Twins. Ryan Jeffers in my opinion, is a high-quality back-up or best used in a platoon. The right handed Jeffers crushes lefties (.328) and struggles against righties (.174). He can’t be the only guy and needs help.
Caleb Hamilton and Sandy León are fringe MLB guys, replacement-level catchers and career farm hands. They’re useful to have in the system and good to call up in a pinch but stop-gaps. This leaves Gary Sanchez.
Sanchez has power, but his bat to ball skill prevents him getting to it. On top of this, he is a poor defensive catcher. I liked the idea in the beginning: maybe New York just got to Sanchez (he was hated by the Yankee faithful), and Minnesota would reinvigorate his once potent bat. Sadly, that didn’t come to pass and going into this offseason,
I’d much rather move on unless Sanchez is willing to take a substantially pay cut. Honestly, I don’t think the long-term answer is in the organization now. This class of free agents has some decent potential.
Wilson Contreras is a stud and probably too expensive for the Twins, while the rest are older guys and transitional players. Still, better than the what’s currently on the roster, with Martin Maldonado being my main target. He is a leader and a tough guy. Someone who could help guide and mentor Jeffers. Pitchers love him, he is excellent defensively, and he would be a boon to Minnesota’s culture.
The most likely outcome in my opinion though, is that the Twins stand pat, rolling with Ryan Jeffers and Caleb Hamilton. While it isn’t exciting and I’m not sold on either guy long-term, I understand the thinking behind the move.
It makes sense to figure out what you have before you invest in the position. Even if you sign a catcher, the options available within the budget are flawed or older players, not long-term answers.
Minnesota Twins Offseason Question No. 3: Who is the playing every day in Center Field?
Byron Buxton is a force of nature when he is out in the field. He is the thunder and the rain, a cosmic comeuppance come to take your hits away. So, I wish, and I pray. I perform rituals found in dark tomes. Alas, it is for naught. We have reached the point of no return.
It is an indisputable fact that Buxton’s body cannot withstand the rigors of a full season. Eight years of data prove it. I’d be surprised if the Twins even attempt to play him every day in center. He’ll play the field once every few days, if that much. Which means, the team is going to need an everyday centerfielder.
If Tampa Bay declines Kevin Kiermaier’s $13 million club option, perhaps the Twins could swoop in and grab the multi-year Gold Glover on a slight overpay (around $8-9 million, Sportstac lists his market value around $7 million).
The Twins get an elite defensive center fielder and keep Buxton’s body safe and healthy as a designated hitter. Obviously, the idea is contingent on the Rays and Kiermaier, but it offers some help for the outfield, if it doesn’t work, enter Gilberto Celestino and Nick Gordon!
I think Gilberto has a chance to be a pretty good player. Celi has been alright at the plate this year, about twenty percent worse than league average. That’s not great, but in line with a player getting his first extended stay in the bigs.
Defensively, Gilberto was three outs above average on the year. He has the physical tools to be better, but his instincts are suspect, often making plays more difficult than needed. He chases the ball as opposed to anticipating, which are rookie mistakes that can be ironed out.
Nick Gordon made huge strides this year, with newfound health and strength (after being plagued by stomach issues), Gordon went from a 79 WRC+ to a 113 WRC+ (an all in one metric summarizing offense where 100 is league avg).
Defensively, Nick is average or slightly below at 2B, SS, the OF. He is a good option to fill in occasionally, but it would diminish his value to play him in center everyday, a good chunk of which is due to versatility. It’s why I like the idea of Kiermaier.
Ideologically, I believe center field is a defense first position. A great center field can protect the left and right field defensively. Positions that are hitting centric. Kiermaier perfectly fits that mold. Unfortunately, Kiermaier probably goes back to the Rays.
Despite a reasonable $2.5 million buyout, he is one of the few player the Rays have paid. The Rays may pick up his club option or renegotiate a longer deal with a lower average annual salary. Minnesota isn’t likely to even sniff around in free agency, instead using a timeshare of Celestino, Gordon, Buxton (until he gets injured).
Conceivably even Austin Martin could make an appearance (though he played mostly shortstop in the minors this year). Either way, I don’t believe the Minnesota Twins can go into 2023 with the expectation Buxton is the guy in centerfield.
Minnesota Twins Offseason Question No. 4: Who is playing Left and Right Field?
In the Minnesota Twins outfield, both corners are a mess. Jake Cave is not an acceptable answer at either spot. Yes, Cave brings a lot with his energy and competitiveness. He is the apple of Justin Morneau’s eye, but as much as everyone loves the Caveman, he isn’t a starting MLB player (even if he is great for the bench.
Left field should be Alex Kirilloff or Trevor Larnach, even if Kirilloff lost huge chunks of the season to injury and Larnach hasn’t played since June. The Twins will again enter a season with Larnach and Kirilloff as question marks, but hopefully, both can stay healthy and emerge.
I expect a timeshare early, but if I had to invest stock in one of Larnach and Kirilloff future, I’m picking Trevor. Larnach has a clear approach at the plate, with a strong idea of the strike zone and what kind of pitches he should attack. The last step for him is just to play. Larnach needs to see more MLB pitching.
While Kirilloff is under 500 MLB plate appearances, only 24, and has a sterling statistical record in the minors all good indicators of MLB success, I can’t see it working in the majors. I don’t trust like his swing. Beautiful and mechanically consistent, it crushes mistakes.
Kirilloff has trouble deviating from it and elite pitchers don’t often make mistakes, so sometimes you must go get a pitch. Moreover, he doesn’t walk, hardly at all, like less than five percent of the time. He is also defensively awkward, often getting caught in between plays. Overall, I feel he is a defensive liability.
Kirilloff ended his season, choosing to get an unusual surgery on a chronic sore wrist. Hopefully, the surgery can return Alex’s power that made him so intriguing as a prospect. Because if he doesn’t hit, he won’t play.
Right field will probably be Max Kepler, but I wouldn’t do it. I’d let Matt Wallner, Larnach and the other youngsters take a crack at it, because to me, Kepler is cooked. 2019 was a a confluence of several factors.
His breakout season, when he hit 36 home runs, just happened to coincide with the most power friendly environment in MLB history. That 2019 team also offered tons of lineup protection, as pitchers had to pick and choose who to attack in the Bombasquad, they often picked Max. To his credit he made them pay.
In this current hitting environment, and with the limited lineup protection, Kepler’s production hasn’t been close to that peak since. While he is still outstanding defensively, (ninety-eighth percentile for his position), his talents aren’t a match for what the Twins need. If the team’s philosophy was about pitching and defense, sure, but his limitations are area of need for the Minnesota Twins.
I think it would behoove the Twins to trade Kepler. Find another player who has fallen out of favor, or is experiencing a similar deterioration and trade Max for that guy. Maybe a change of scenery invigorates both. If the team stands pat, they are better served giving right field to Matt Wallner, Nick Gordon and Larnach. It’s time to find out if these guys have a chance to be good.
Minnesota Twins Offseason Question No. 5: Is Jorge López the closer?
The Twins traded four pitching pitchers for Jorge Lopez, guys who may not be stars, but it’s the type of deal that eats away at organizational depth. López has been shaky in Minnesota with a 4.79 ERA and only twenty innings pitched.
If Jorge can rebound, the Twins would have a dynamic duo in Jhoan Duran and Jorge López. It would allow Duran to work through the best hitters in the seventh or eighth inning, so it’s a shame he was unreliable. Instead of having the back end of the bullpen locked down, it remains a question mark for next year. Hopefully he can rebound.
Minnesota Twins Offseason Question No. 6: What is the Twins philosophy going forward?
What kind of team is the front office creating? They aren’t a pitching-first team. They don’t hit a ton of home runs and they aren’t a contact-based squad. They can’t really run, and their defense is mediocre.
The team is in an odd spot, and while they do have talent, I don’t think it meshes well. One of the reasons I was so sure the Guardians would win the division was their synergy. (I really admire their front office, despite how cheap the owner is). The Twins are stuck in-between. It’s time to pick a philosophical style and commit.
Minnesota Twins Offseason Question No. 7: Should the Twins expect to be good in 2023?
They were losers in 2021 when they anticipated being good due to injury and bad luck. The front office stated again and again that it was bad luck and expected a much better squad for the 2022 season. The early returns were as advertised until injuries and diminishing performances sunk the team’s chances of capturing a division title.
Cleveland surged while the Twins faded. Miguel Sano played himself off the Minnesota Twins (and quite possibly out of the league). Buxton and Polanco played injured for months before going out. The rotation is alright but injury prone. The bullpen outside of Duran is uncertain and in flux.
With so many questions and a lot of unproven but talented youngsters, it’s time for a consolidation year. With ownership making a commitment to Derek Falvey and Falvey in turn committing to Rocco Baldelli, this leadership group has the benefit of time.
If I were in their position, I would let Correa go, instead investing in three or four lesser players. Build some depth and allow the young guns called up this year to take the reins. Trade away a piece or two during the season and recoup some of the assets expended at the deadline.
Too many question marks and ifs. We will be good *if* Buxton stays healthy, *if* Kenta Maeda returns to his 2020 form, if, if, if. I would rather go into the year in control. Play young, clear of some bad contracts, and prepare for 2024.