Inbox: Will Rosario remain with Twins in '21?

Beat reporter Do-Hyoung Park answers fans' questions

October 18th, 2020

The Twins had aspirations of playing deep into October. Instead, much of the latter part of the month will now be devoted to planning for a busy offseason and a 2021 squad that could see significant turnover on the Major League roster as well as the potential for contributions from many top prospects.

Those offseason dominoes will begin to fall quickly after the conclusion of the World Series, starting with qualifying offer decisions and Sergio Romo's club option. That makes this a good time for a robust Twins Inbox to discuss some of the decisions Minnesota will face in the coming weeks.

Without further ado, let's dive in:

What are the odds that the Eddie Rosario trade that was talked about so much last offseason comes to fruition this time around?
-- @PrimeKepler

I definitely don't need to tell most of you that the contract status of Rosario will be one of the bigger talking points in Twins Territory ahead of the Dec. 2 non-tender Deadline. It's not tough to see a scenario in which Rosario isn't on the Twins' 2021 roster, but that looks likelier to come via a non-tender than a trade.

According to MLB Trade Rumors, Rosario is projected to earn somewhere between $8.6 million and $12.9 million in 2021 (reflective of the uncertainty caused by the shortened '20 season). There's something to be said for Rosario's consistency -- he's been one of the club's most reliable power threats and largely healthy throughout his career -- but that could also be a steep one-year price for a hitter with a career .788 OPS in a year when finances could be more of a factor around the league.

That's particularly pronounced because the Twins have such a logjam of outfielders, headlined by No. 12 prospect Brent Rooker, No. 2 prospect Alex Kirilloff -- who arrived in the American League Wild Card Series -- and No. 3 prospect Trevor Larnach, who likely isn't far behind. (That's in addition to Jake Cave and LaMonte Wade Jr., who have more MLB experience.) If the Twins feel that they could get an approximation of Rosario's production from younger talent for a steep discount, a non-tender could make sense.

If the Twins were to trade Rosario before the non-tender Deadline, the receiving team would face a similar decision. And it might also be tougher to find value in such a deal considering Rosario's one remaining year of team control, his low on-base rates and his projected salary. If Rosario doesn't remain with the Twins, I'd think it's more likely that it'd be as a non-tender free agent.

How likely is it that Kirilloff is going to be on the Opening Day roster next season?
-- @jacob_luberda

The Twins wouldn't have given Kirilloff his first career big league start in a playoff elimination game if they didn't think he was MLB-ready. I'd expect Kirilloff to see plenty of time in the Majors next season. With that said, service time considerations could always come into play with top young prospects like Kirilloff, especially since he hasn't yet appeared in the regular season. That generally makes it less likely for such prospects to break with the club out of Spring Training.

Minnesota likely isn't going to promote Kirilloff to serve as a reserve or a platoon outfielder, and even if the Twins part ways with Rosario this offseason, Rooker could still fill a starting role until there's a slot for Kirilloff. That could change due to injury or more departures in the outfield, but for now, I'd expect Rooker to have the edge for Opening Day given his advanced age and more extensive experience in the high Minors.

How is Josh Donaldson doing? What needs to be done to keep him healthy next year?
-- @TwinPuck

There's no magic solution here considering Donaldson's age (he'll be 35 on Opening Day) and his extensive history of calf troubles, which carried through into the 2020 postseason, when he missed the AL Wild Card Series. In president of baseball operations Derek Falvey's post-elimination press conference, he noted that the Twins were already working with Donaldson to stay ahead of the calf issues heading into next season, and they hope that a normal offseason and Spring Training, unlike the abbreviated ramp-up in '20, could also help keep Donaldson healthier.

Donaldson himself also noted some changes in his mentality throughout this season. He noted that he's learned to put less pressure on himself and his coaches to get him on the field given his history of such injuries. He's more willing to take himself out of the lineup if he doesn't feel confident in his preparation. I'd imagine the Twins and Donaldson will ultimately settle on a combination of a focused recovery program and more measured usage in 2021.

With Ryan Jeffers’ solid performance in 2020, what are the odds we see him take on a much more significant role than Alex Avila did as Mitch Garver’s backup guy? Could it be like the Jason Castro/Garver flip/flop that we saw in '19?
-- @SportsTalkJake3

I'd say those odds are pretty good, especially considering how MLB-ready Jeffers looked on both offense and defense in his first taste of the big leagues, coupled with Garver's shaky 2020. Obviously, the best-case scenario for the Twins is having both catchers be healthy and productive, which could lead to one of the Majors' more productive timeshares. Jeffers probably has the better glove, while Garver likely has more offensive upside (even considering his .511 OPS last season).

In fact, I'd think for now that Jeffers has the leg up on the starting job in 2021 given his usage in the playoffs, though that will obviously depend on how Garver comes out of the offseason. If the Twins have two starting-caliber catchers, expect a fairly even split in time.

Do you expect the Twins to retain Nelson Cruz or will they move on from him and platoon the designated hitter next year?
-- @KarterKudrna33

It's known that both the Twins and Cruz are interested in a reunion, but those talks could depend on Cruz's ask and the demand around the league for the 40-year-old's services. Not only has the veteran been the club's best hitter for the last two seasons, but he's also been an important clubhouse presence around so many young hitters. Cruz could have the recent performance to ask for more than one guaranteed year for his next contract, but his age might give clubs pause.

If the Twins can't work out a deal with Cruz, they won't have any trouble filling the designated hitter spot. If Garver returns to form, he could factor into that slot a bit, and Miguel Sanó and Rooker could also split some time there -- as could some of the club's hitting prospects, when ready.

Last offseason both James Rowson and Derek Shelton left the team for other jobs. Do you see any changes in the Twins coaching staff this offseason?
-- @SportsyMMM

I don't anticipate any major changes barring interest from other teams in the Twins' positional coaches, and Falvey said as much following the season. I got several questions for this Inbox about new hitting coach Edgar Varela, but he has familiarity with the system from his two seasons as a coordinator in the organization and it's tough to evaluate any coach or player on the basis of such an unusual 60-game season.

One thing to keep an eye on is the status of bullpen coach Bob McClure and Major League coach Bill Evers, who weren't on the in-person coaching staff this season due to COVID-19 risk. Falvey noted that there might be conversations about transitioning them to distanced roles.

What are the chances the Twins sign Tommy La Stella and/or Kike Hernández to be their new Marwin Gonzalez or Ehire Adrianza for the team?
-- @SeanMaertens

The Twins definitely need a utility-type player considering the impending free agency of both Gonzalez and Adrianza, but the two names you mentioned appear unlikely since neither can play shortstop. That's a priority, especially since Minnesota has no shortstop depth behind Jorge Polanco, and the in-house versatility comes from Travis Blankenhorn, who is limited to second base, third base and a bit of corner outfield.

They'll need to figure out what they can get from Nick Gordon, who can play some shortstop but missed significant time in the last two years, including all of 2020 with COVID-19, and also evaluate if top prospect Royce Lewis is close to ready. Otherwise, whether via a reunion with Adrianza or otherwise, shortstop depth will be an important factor.