Free agents are officially on the market, qualifying offers have been extended (and rejected), contract options exercised and/or declined and 40-man rosters whittled down. Welcome to the MLB offseason.
For the Minnesota Twins, it’s one full of questions, both on and off the field. Yes, they cruised to a division title and finally snapped that long, long postseason drought. But the Houston Astros promptly reminded them of just how far away this team really is from the AL’s elite, and lost TV revenue has ownership looking to decrease payroll entering 2024. How might that affect the Twins’ ability to build a contender? Can Derek Falvey wheel and deal his way to roster improvements without the ability to swim in the deep end of the free agent pool? We’re here to break down Minnesota’s offseason from every angle.
Twins offseason preview
Season in review
Minnesota’s starting rotation was arguably the best in baseball in 2023, with a 3.82 ERA that ranked second in the Majors and a league-leading 970 strikeouts from starting pitchers. (The next-closest team? The Toronto Blue Jays — at 922.) Despite that pitching dominance, however — and despite a historically poor AL Central — it took the Twins a while to really hit their stride, largely due to injuries and inconsistency from a whiff-happy lineup.
But hit their stride they certainly did: While Byron Buxton suffered yet another lost season, the return of budding superstar Royce Lewis and breakout turns from other youngsters like Edouard Julien, Matt Wallner and Ryan Jeffers led a late-season offensive surge that had Minnesota playing as well as anyone down the stretch. The Twins went 42-29 in the second half, 18-9 in September, then kept the train rolling with a cathartic sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays in their AL Wild Card series. Things came crashing down against Houston in the ALDS, with back-to-back losses at home in Games 3 and 4.
Pending free agents
Minnesota now enters an offseason in which they’ll have some significant holes to fill. Both right fielder Max Kepler and second baseman Jorge Polanco are back after having their options picked up, but Sonny Gray, Michael A. Taylor, Kenta Maeda, Donovan Solano, Tyler. Mahle, Emilio Pagan and Joey Gallo are among the key names set to hit free agency.
Gray is by far the biggest name on the list above after a spectacular season in which he finished second in AL Cy Young voting. Given that the biggest contract Falvey has ever handed out to a free-agent pitcher was the two-year, $20 million deal he gave Michael Pineda a few years ago, it’s safe to say that a reunion isn’t in the cards — which, along with the potential departure of Maeda, creates a big hole in a rotation that was the team’s biggest strength in 2023.
The Twins will also need a center fielder to replace the defensively excellent Taylor, who started 110 games there last season in place of the oft-injured Buxton (who at this point can’t be counted on for much of anything, let alone playing a position as demanding as center). Adding a right-handed bat to a very lefty-heavy lineup — Minnesota was fifth in team OPS against righty pitching but 19th against lefties — should also be a priority.
Best free-agent fits
Again, every bit of messaging both from Falvey and from ownership indicates that there will not be much of any money to spend on the free-agent market. A reunion with Gray doesn’t seem to be in the cards, nor will the Twins be in on any of the frontline starters who might replace him like Aaron Nola, Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery or Yoshinobu Yamamoto. A lower-tier option like Michael Wacha or Seth Lugo or a flier like Luis Severino or James Paxton would probably make more sense.
On the other side, they could look to resign Taylor, or failing that look to make a run at another center fielder like Kevin Kiermaier. There are also plenty of right-handed corner bats that will probably have to settle for one- or two-year deals, from DHs like Jorge Soler, Justin Turner and J.D. Martinez to outfielders like Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Tommy Pham and Teoscar Hernandez — though Hernandez would bring even more swing-and-miss to a lineup currently overflowing in it. Overall, expect Minnesota’s work in free agency to be geared toward those types of moves, supplementing and evening out what is already a strong offensive core; if they want to fill the Gray-sized hole in their rotation, however, they may have to get a bit more creative.
If Falvey is going to make a significant addition — and it’s clear that this team needs one if it wants to hang with the AL’s best, especially given the departure of Gray — it will likely have to come via trade. And there are assets to play with on that front, starting with Polanco and Kepler: Both are solid players on reasonable contracts, and both play positions that the Twins wouldn’t have too much trouble filling (with Julien set to take over the keystone and a ton of young corner bats worth a look in right). Given their age and limited amount of future team control, neither player will have anything like the trade value of, say, Luis Arraez, who Falvey flipped for Pablo Lopez last year. Still, it’s not hard to see Minnesota putting together a compelling package for a playoff-caliber starting pitcher — albeit not likely someone at the level of Corbin Burnes or Tyler Glasnow.