Twins non-tender C.J. Cron, Hildenberger

December 3rd, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins did not tender a contract to first baseman or reliever by Monday's 7 p.m. CT deadline, adding a void at first base to the club's offseason needs, which also include starting pitching and a backup catcher.

The Twins signed utility infielder to a one-year contract to avoid arbitration earlier in the day. They also tendered contract offers to the eight other arbitration-eligible players on the roster: , , , , , , and .

The moves brought the Twins' 40-man roster down to 35 players. Here's a rundown of what the non-tender decisions mean for Minnesota moving forward:

Why was Cron non-tendered?

Cron had frequently been speculated as a non-tender candidate in the weeks leading up to the deadline, due in part to a right thumb injury that decreased his production and playing time in the second half of 2019. He underwent a surgical debridement procedure on the thumb following the season on Oct. 16, which likely made it more difficult for the Twins to make a significant financial commitment to him.

Cron earned $4.8 million in '19 and was projected to receive a steep raise to around $7.7 million for '20 in his final year of arbitration, according to MLB Trade Rumors.

He initially went on the injured list with thumb soreness in July and hit .229/.280/.420 in 47 games -- including 38 starts -- following the All-Star break. Only eight of Cron's 25 homers came in the second half. He did provide a solid glove at first base and was one of eight Twins to hit more than 20 homers, but his .253/.311/.469 slash line for the season resulted in a wRC+ of 101 -- barely above league average.

How about Hildenberger?

The sidewinder was the Twins' most heavily used reliever in 2018 and was projected to be an important part of the Twins' bullpen corps entering last season. He pitched like it for the season's first month, when he didn't allow an earned run through his first 11 appearances, but the right-hander was hit hard as April turned to May, resulting in a demotion to Triple-A Rochester.

Even after he identified and worked to correct a flaw in his mechanics during his Minor League stint, the 28-year-old Hildenberger was not effective for the Twins when he returned to the bullpen as part of September roster expansion. Hildenberger wasn't yet eligible for arbitration, but with Duffey's success in Hildenberger's former "fireman" role and the emergence of younger arms like Zack Littell and Cody Stashak, there might not have been enough wiggle room in the bullpen picture to keep Hildenberger on the 40-man roster.

Does this mean Sanó is moving to first base?

That could be an option, though Twins manager Rocco Baldelli didn't appear too invested in that idea when he was asked about it at the end of the season. Sanó has played first base in 31 career games, including nine last season. He was fairly error-prone at third base last season, when he committed 17 errors at the hot corner, and his advanced fielding metrics also rated him among the bottom of the pack.

Even so, Baldelli gave a vote of confidence to the defensive progress that Sanó made over the course of the year, and it's also worth noting that Sanó was getting used to a new, slimmed-down frame for the first time and didn't have the benefit of Spring Training before he was thrust into game action. And, as Baldelli pointed out, one of Sanó's greatest assets on the field is his cannon arm, which would be all but neutralized as a first baseman.

"Defensively, I think he worked really hard," Baldelli said in October. "I think he did an admirable job over there at third base. Is there always a chance that he could also help us and play other positions? Maybe some first base? Of course. He already did. Could he do more of that in the future? Possible. But I wouldn’t want to take third base away from him at any point. I think he proved that he can go over there and handle it."

How about Garver or other internal options?

The Twins tried out at first base (and even left field) in some limited action last spring, but he expressed a preference for catching and only played two innings at first base during the regular season. The argument could be made that Garver could take "days off" from catching to play first base to keep his potent bat in the lineup, but Baldelli didn't even use Garver at designated hitter too often in '19 when he was getting a day off his feet.

was the Twins' preferred substitute for Cron last season, but anchoring the versatile Gonzalez at one position would take away much of his value. Minor Leaguer Luke Raley has first-base experience and was recently added to the 40-man roster as protection from the Rule 5 Draft, but he played exclusively in the outfield last season in Triple-A Rochester. It's the same deal with Brent Rooker, the Twins' No. 8 prospect, who isn't yet on the 40-man roster.

If the Twins' outfield situation remains crowded, No. 2 prospect Alex Kirilloff could be a future option at first base, where the Twins exposed him to significant playing time at Double-A Pensacola last season. But he's almost certainly not a Major League answer at first base in 2020.

What do the corner-infield options on the market look like?

Even if it isn't necessarily a priority for the Twins to establish Sanó at first base, his ability to play both infield corners could give Minnesota's decision-makers some flexibility if they choose to address the vacancy with an outside addition at either first base or third base.

Given that Kirilloff or some other organizational prospect could arrive to anchor first base within the next few years, possible shorter-term free agents include Howie Kendrick, Eric Thames and Mitch Moreland. But the third-base market could be more intriguing. Behind the grand prize of , is coming off a 4.9 WAR season and is accompanied in free agency by the likes of and .