After making the playoffs in 2017, the Twins regressed in 2018, finishing 78-84. The talent is still in place though, and with better seasons from Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, a playoff push could be in reach with improvements in the lineup and in the bullpen.
Current State: Playoff Contender
Twins Sign 2B Jonathan Schoop
The Twins have signed second baseman Jonathan Schoop to a one year, $7 million contract. Schoop, 27, had a rough season last year. He had just a .682 OPS with just a 1.4 WAR, and an OPS of just .577 after being traded to the Brewers. Still, he’s a year removed from a 2017 campaign in which he had a .841 OPS and a 5.2 WAR with the Orioles. He’s doesn’t possess ideal on base skills (.338 in 2017 is his career best), but he’s a power threat at second base who will play average defense. He was showing signs of breaking out with Baltimore until he got traded, and if he regains his form with the Twins, he’ll be one of the biggest bargains from this free agent market. It’s a risk, but on a one year deal for just $7 million, it’s a great gamble for the Twins, who could benefit greatly in the hopes of winning the division if Schoop bounces back.
Twins Claim and Sign 1B CJ Cron
After claiming him off waivers from the Rays, the Twins have signed first baseman CJ Cron to a one year, $4.8 million deal. Cron, 28, had a career year with the Rays in 2018. He had an OPS of .816, slugged 30 home runs, and had a WAR of 2.0. Like Schoop, Cron is a power threat without the on base skills that teams look for, while playing average defense, so you wonder if the Twins are investing too heavily in these types of players. Nonetheless, he’s an upgrade over Tyler Austin at first base who will boost the Twins power in the middle of the order. At $4.8 million, the Twins gave Cron market value for a 30 home run slugger who doesn’t offer a whole lot else. It’s not a great deal, but it’s definitely not a bad deal by any means.
Twins Hire Rocco Baldelli as Manager
The Twins have hired Rocco Baldelli to be their new manager. Baldelli, 37, was drafted by the Rays with the 6th pick of the 2000 draft, and finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2003. A muscular disorder cut his career short, and he transitioned into the Rays front office in 2011. Last season, the Rays invented a role for him, making him their major league field coordinator. Essentially, according to Sports Illustrated, he was “third in command” to manager Kevin Cash and new Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo. Considering that the Rays are ahead of the MLB curve with their talent development and new methods, such as the opener, Baldelli is certainly an intriguing hire. His age makes him extremely relatable for the players, and he presents a much different vibe than former manager Paul Monitor did. Baldelli is a tremendous choice in trying to develop young players such as Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, while banking on bounce back candidates such as Jonathan Schoop. His communication skills and his commitment to analytics may make him a terrific manager in short term’s notice.
Twins Sign DH Nelson Cruz
The Twins have signed designated hitter Nelson Cruz to a one year, $14.3 million contract. This deal also comes with a club option for 2020 worth $12 million. Cruz, 38, has been one of the more consistent sluggers over the past few years. In the past six years, he’s had an OPS of atleast .833 and he had a .915 OPS or better in three of his seasons with the Mariners. Last season, he had a .850 OPS with 37 home runs and a .342 on base percentage. Those numbers may seem down, but Cruz may have been a victim to some bad luck. His expected batting average, according to Baseball Savant, was .285. That’s much higher than his actual .256 batting average, while his .554 expected slugging percentage is significantly higher than his actual .509 slugging percentage. His 51.5 hard hit percentage remained amongst the best in baseball, and he’s actually continued to get better rather than slowing down. Therefore, there should be no concern with giving Cruz a one year commitment. Considering Edwin Encarnation is getting paid $20 million, getting Cruz at $14.3 million with a $12 million team option is an absolute bargain. This is definitely one of the best contracts in terms of the high chances that Minnesota receives surplus value from this deal.
Twins Sign RP Blake Parker
To add much needed depth their bullpen, the Twins have signed reliever Blake Parker to a one year, $1.8 million deal. Parker, 33, was a surprisingly non-tendered by the Angels despite posting a 2.90 ERA in two seasons with them. This past season, he had a solid 3.26 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP, but his FIP rose up to 4.40. Parker’s ground ball rate sunk to 33.7%, while his hard contact rate allowed rose to 37.5%, and he allowed home runs at an alarming rate (1.63 HR/9). In fact, his FIP- (105) rated him as a below average pitcher last season. Still he posted an outstanding 62 FIP- in 2017, and though his fastball velocity dropped to 92.8 MPH in 2018, that’s still around his career averaged 93 MPH fastball velocity. For $1.8 million, the gamble on Parker is well worth it, especially considering he was able to post a solid 3.26 ERA despite the other red flags.
Twins Sign SP Martin Perez
The Twins have signed starting pitcher Martin Perez to a one year, $3.5 million deal. Perez, 27, has been an awful pitcher for the last three seasons, where he’s posted a 5.14 ERA and a 4.95 FIP. There is some intrigue since his ERA+ was an average 102 between 2016 and 2017, which signals that he desperately needed to get out of the hitter’s friendly Globe Life Park. Still, he’s coming off a season in which he posted a 6.22 ERA with a 1.78 WHIP and a 5.72 FIP. All of his pitched posted a negative runs above average, and hitters had no problem making contact (84.3% contact rate) at a high quality (41.4 hard contact rate). As his -2.03 Win Probability Added suggests, Perez no longer deserves to be apart of a major league pitching staff despite a promising start to his career in which he finished 6th in the rookie of the year voting in 2013. If the Twins give him a spot in the rotation or even in the bullpen, they’ll be surely disappointed, considering Perez is going to be making around where higher quality free agent pitchers have gotten on one year deals as well this offseason.
Twins Extend SS Jorge Polanco
The Twins have agreed to an extension with shortstop Jorge Polanco, signing him to a five-year deal worth around $26 million with club options for 2024 and 2025. This will cover Polanco’s four remaining years under team control, with the potential to buy out three free agent years. Polanco, 25, had a .745 OPS and a 1.5 WAR last season. He’s been a below average hitter throughout his career (career 101 OPS+), and also was suspended 80 games for PEDs this past season. Also, with a career -9 drs, Polanco is average to below average defensively as well, while he graded out as a below average baserunner. Minnesota is clearly betting on him to improve, but if he actually does remains to be seen. His walk rate has remained stagnant, while his strikeout rate increased last season. The only two things that improved this past season were his line drive rate and his hard contact rate, yet his hard contact rate was still nothing special at 32.1%. Plus, he only managed a .745 OPS despite having a relatively high .345 BABIP, so there’s actually a decent chance Polanco regresses. The Twins are treating Polanco like he’s a part of their long-term core. In reality, however, he’s an average player at best.
Twins Extend OF Max Kepler
The Twins have extended another player, agreeing to a five-year pact with outfielder Max Kepler worth $35 million with a club option for a sixth season worth $10 million. This extension will buy out all three of the 26-year-old’s arbitration years, and possibly three of his free agent years. Over his three seasons, Kepler has had at least a 2.0 WAR in each of them. Last year was his best season yet, as he posted a .727 OPS and a 2.8 WAR. Kepler also plays outstanding defense, as he had 10 drs and a 10.8 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) last season. Unlike Polanco, Kepler has shown improvements in his underlying numbers to warrant an extension. His hard contact rate improved to 37.1%, yet his BABIP dropped all the way to .236 last season. With more luck next season, Kepler could finally reach his ceiling as an above average hitter, as evident by STEAMER’s wrc+ projection for Kepler at 110. Kepler’s walk rate skyrocketed to 11.6% last year as well, while his strikeout rate decreased significantly to 15.7%. Sticking with the theme, his ground ball rate and chase rate decreased, and Kepler pretty much progressed in every aspect. It won’t be long until Kepler rises to become around a 4 win player, and there’s nothing to suggest that he won’t do so this year. This is a terrific buy-low move for Minnesota, and it should pay off big time in the long haul.
Twins Sign UTIL Marwin Gonzalez
Continuing with their busy offseason, the Twins have signed utility player Marwin Gonzalez to a two-year, $21 million contract. Gonzalez, 29, was an integral part of the 2017 World Series champion Astros, when he had a .907 OPS and a 4.0 WAR. He wasn’t able to put up those same numbers in 2018 however, regressing to a .733 OPS and a 1.6 WAR. Still, Gonzalez increased his hard contact rate to 38.4%, and bounced back in the second-half. During that hot streak, Gonzalez posted an .844 OPS, increasing his hard contact rate already to 44.4% in that span. Gonzalez’s main value is his versatility; he can play every position other than catcher at least a league average level. That makes him an excellent fit with every team, and especially for Minnesota, who’s relying on a lot of young players to bounce back and may need insurance at certain positions. Plus, on just a two-year contract, Gonzalez is an absolute steal for the Twins. These are the types of signings that you make if you’re serious about winning in 2019, and Minnesota may be able to sneak past Cleveland to win the AL Central as a result of this brilliancy.
*Will Be Updated With Every Move The Twins Make
Stats Courtesy of Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, and Baseball Savant