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Offseason In Review: Minnesota Twins

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The Twins idled their way through much of the offseason as the front office navigated payroll limitations before eventually making a characteristic late strike on the trade market.

Major League Contracts

2024 spend: $7.7MM
Total spend: $7.7MM

Option Decisions

Trades and Waiver Claims

Notable Minor League Signings

Notable Losses

The Twins won the American League Central and ended their historic postseason losing streak in 2023, sweeping the Blue Jays out of the American League Wild Card round before falling 3-1 to the Astros in an ALDS defeat. Fans hoped that a taste of postseason success would spur ownership to further invest in the roster, but the Twins were one of several clubs who spent the offseason in limbo with no clear picture of what would happen regarding their television broadcasts amid Diamond Sports Group’s bankruptcy filings.

It became clear early in the offseason that the Twins planned to cut payroll. Front office leadership was direct in suggesting as much, and The Athletic’s Dan Hayes reported that the goal was to scale payroll back from last year’s $155MM mark to somewhere in the $125-140MM range. It was a frustrating development for a fanbase that had recently seen the Twins emerge as major players in free agency, signing Carlos Correa in back-to-back offseasons.

Not only did the looming payroll reduction prevent the Twins from bringing in new talent, it also likely sealed the fate of starters Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda before the offseason began in earnest. Gray, the 2023 AL Cy Young runner-up, made the no-brainer decision to reject a qualifying offer and unsurprisingly landed a contract north of $50MM: a three-year, $75MM pact in St. Louis. Topping the $50MM mark was key for the Twins, as that ensures they’ll receive a comp pick at the end of the first round for losing Gray. Minnesota reportedly had interest in keeping Maeda, but only on a one-year deal. He inked a reasonable two-year, $24MM pact with the Tigers that perhaps the Twins would’ve been more comfortable matching under normal circumstances, but he departed with the team receiving no compensation.

The Twins’ needs entering the offseason were well known. The rotation was losing a pair of notable arms — three, really, if you count Tyler Mahle, who missed most of the season due to Tommy John surgery — and they’d be on the lookout for ways to fill those innings. President of baseball operations Derek Falvey said in early November that the club might also keep an eye out for first base options, and the Twins were also known to be looking for a right-handed-hitting outfield bat to provide insurance for oft-injured Byron Buxton in center field with Michael A. Taylor reaching free agency.

Even though their to-do list was hardly shrouded in secrecy, the Twins idled throughout the first several months of the offseason. Free agents who’d fit the team’s needs — both expensive and reasonably priced — came off the board with minimal interest reported from Minnesota. Frustration among the fanbase understandably built.

The Twins have a knack for late-offseason trades/signings of significance, though, and they once again waited until that stage of the winter to make any real moves of note. The first and most significant transaction of the entire offseason came when the Twins, after months of exploring the trade market, found a deal to their liking for stalwart infielder Jorge Polanco. The 30-year-old second baseman had been in the organization since he was 16 years old and had been a staple in the Twins’ infield since 2016.

Infield was perhaps the Twins’ greatest organizational area of depth, though. Beyond Polanco, they were set with Correa at shortstop, Royce Lewis at third base and 2023 breakout rookie Edouard Julien at second base. Utility players Kyle Farmer and Willi Castro can play any of those three spots. The Twins had former top prospects Alex Kirilloff and Jose Miranda in the mix at first base, with Miranda also capable of playing third base. Knocking on the door to the majors were the club’s No. 2 prospect, Brooks Lee, whom they selected with the No. 8 pick in 2022, and Austin Martin — a former No. 5 overall pick acquired in the trade that sent Jose Berrios to Toronto.

Over in Seattle, infield depth was far thinner. The Mariners had targeted Polanco in the past, but the Twins weren’t keen on moving him with less MLB-caliber infield depth and with so many affordable, prime-aged years remaining on Polanco’s extension. The 2023-24 offseason was clearly a different story. Polanco’s down to two years of control on his contract. Minnesota’s infield depth is arguably at an all-time high. They were also looking to scale back payroll.

The Twins could’ve tried to structure a deal sending Polanco and prospect depth to another club for controllable young pitching, but that hasn’t been this front office’s M.O. in past trades. The Twins always seem to focus on backfilling the system even if they’re trading for a major league player, and that was the case with the Polanco swap. Reliever Justin Topa, fresh off a breakout season, gave the Twins an immediate bullpen upgrade to a setup corps already including quality relievers like Griffin Jax, Caleb Thielbar and Brock Stewart.

Also headed to Minnesota in that deal were veteran righty Anthony DeSclafani, top outfield prospect Gabriel Gonzalez, and minor league righty Darren Bowen. DeSclafani checked the Twins’ desire to add a low-cost option to compete for the fifth starter’s job in spring training. The Mariners had acquired him from the Giants earlier in the offseason, with San Francisco kicking in $6MM to help cover the right-hander’s $12MM salary. The Mariners redirected that $6MM to Minnesota and added another $2MM, leaving DeSclafani as a $4MM flier for the back of Minnesota’s rotation. (More on that in a bit.)

Prospect-wise, Gonzalez adds another well-regarded name to a deep list of Twins outfield hopefuls. Bowen is further off but gives the Twins a prospect who’s increased his stock since being selected in the 13th round of the 2020 draft. Gonzalez generally ranks within Minnesota’s top six prospects; Bowen is near the back end of their top 30. Coupled with a controllable setup man and low-cost roll of the dice in the rotation, it was a nice return for the Twins and a big upgrade to the Seattle infield. The move generally looked justifiable for both parties.

The other aspect of the trade, for the Twins, was shedding some salary. The swap was a net gain of $5.25MM in payroll space, and the Twins used that exact sum to bring longtime division foe Carlos Santana to Target Field. What initially looked like a part-time role increasingly looks like a regular job for Santana. He’ll be the primary first baseman, providing a massive defensive upgrade over former top prospect Alex Kirilloff. While Kirilloff is still on the roster, he’ll see more time at DH and perhaps in left field. He’ll still see occasional reps at first base, but the Polanco trade/Santana signing in rapid succession signaled a shift to focus on run prevention in the form of defense and bullpen arms, as the Twins likely began to accept that a more significant rotation move wasn’t going to come together.

That line of thought likely informed the remainder of the Twins’ decisions this winter, too. Righties Jay Jackson and Josh Staumont both inked one-year deals. Jackson has been an underrated arm over the past several seasons and made his first Opening Day roster at 36 years of age. Staumont looked like a potential bullpen powerhouse for the Royals at times, but his high-octane arsenal was often undercut by poor command and, more recently, injury. The Twins are hoping to get him back on track after thoracic outlet surgery. Meanwhile, out-of-options utilityman Nick Gordon was swapped out for lefty Steven Okert, who posted a 3.51 ERA, 28.9% strikeout rate and 10.7% walk rate in 146 innings from 2021-23. Both Topa and Okert are arb-eligible through 2026. Staumont is controlled through 2025, as is Jackson, whose deal includes an affordable $3MM club option.

Sticking with the themes of low-cost moves and run prevention, the Twins’ other primary focus was finding a right-handed hitting outfielder who could spell Byron Buxton in center and complement lefty-swinging corner outfielders Max Kepler and Matt Wallner. A reunion with Michael A. Taylor was of interest to the team, but he spent the offseason seeking either a two-year deal or a one-year pact commensurate with the $10.5MM deals signed by fellow defensive standouts Kevin Kiermaier and Harrison Bader.

The Twins at one point looked to be a finalist for Enrique Hernandez to fill this role, but the Dodgers jumped into the mix late in his free agency, bringing the fan favorite back to Chavez Ravine in a move that made Manuel Margot redundant. The Dodgers committed $4MM to Hernandez and swung a trade with the Twins that would see Minnesota cover $4MM of Margot’s remaining $12MM. It was a cash-neutral move for the Dodgers and one that filled an immediate need for the Twins. It cost Minnesota former first-round pick Noah Miller, but Miller at this point looks the part of an all-glove infield prospect whose bat has yet to develop. Infield talent is an area of strength in Minnesota’s system, and Miller didn’t have a path to a prominent role on the team in the long run.

In retrospect, the Twins could’ve perhaps held onto Miller and re-signed Taylor, who wound up agreeing to a modest $4MM deal with the Pirates once camp was already underway. Taylor was seeking more money at the time the Twins acquired Margot, however. It’s possible, even, that the Twins’ pivot to an alternative solution dinged Taylor’s market enough that he dropped his price.

It’s a similar story in the rotation. At the time the Twins acquired DeSclafani, a $4MM price point for a decent bit of rotation depth was reasonable enough. DeSclafani had clear injury risk but as recently as 2021 had pitched 167 2/3 innings of 3.17 ERA ball. Even if that level of performance couldn’t be expected, he’s a career 4.20 ERA pitcher with good command, average ground-ball tendencies and only a slightly below-average strikeout rate.

Of course, we now know that DeSclafani won’t pitch for the Twins this season. He underwent flexor surgery that’ll wipe out his ’24 campaign before it begins. It’s a continuation of a maddening trend for Twins fans that have seen trade acquisitions like Sam Dyson, Chris Paddack and Tyler Mahle all injured almost immediately upon joining the Twins. Dyson had hidden his injury from the Giants prior to being dealt, but the remaining arms were all bets on talented arms with very recent injury issues that made the risk in acquiring them quite clear. While higher-profile pickups of names like Pablo Lopez and Sonny Gray have borne more fruit, the DeSclafani injury only further adds to that list.

It’s all the more frustrating when two months later, the stagnant free agent market resulted in the likes of Michael Lorenzen ($4.5MM) and Mike Clevinger ($3MM) signing vastly smaller guarantees than expected. There’s no way the Twins or other clubs could’ve foreseen the market for those two — Lorenzen in particular — dipping to this point. But, if the Twins were indeed working on this tight a budget, it appears all the more questionable to make their primary depth acquisition someone who’d pitched just 118 2/3 innings in the two prior seasons and ended the ’23 campaign on the IL with a flexor strain.

With DeSclafani shelved, right-hander Louie Varland steps squarely into the rotation alongside Lopez, Paddack, Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober. It’s a talented group, but the depth behind it isn’t as strong. The Twins have Simeon Woods Richardson and Brent Headrick on the 40-man roster, plus top prospect David Festa not far from MLB readiness. Still, Paddack will likely be on an innings cap of some sort after throwing just 27 1/3 MLB frames from 2022-23 due to his second career Tommy John surgery. There’s a clear lack of experience at the back of the group with Varland, Woods Richardson, Headrick and Festa. Adding some some depth by way of a veteran who was released late in camp (e.g. Julio Teheran) or via adding a recent DFA casualty (e.g. Jackson Wolf, Vladimir Gutierrez, Adrian Martinez) could be prudent in the early going.

The Twins’ rotation clearly looks worse this season than last, but the club’s hope has been that healthier seasons from Byron Buxton and Royce Lewis, plus full seasons of Julien and Wallner could help to offset some of that downturn. Lewis’ early quad injury has already dashed some of those hopes, but there’s still ample time for him to top last year’s 239 plate appearances.

Minnesota’s front office isn’t necessarily shy about attempting to upgrade at the trade deadline, either, and so long as they remain in the hunt for the AL Central crown, they’ll likely be active in late July. It’d be a surprise to see the Twins fall out of the race early. While the quiet offseason showing wasn’t the follow-up fans wanted, this club still looks well-positioned to contend.


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