MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins’ front office has pushed for big moves when needed in the recent past. Do they have it in them to make their biggest splash yet?
Baseball’s annual Winter Meetings have long served as a means of bringing all of the game’s decision-makers to one place to jog those conversations, and the Twins will have to continue discussions with superagent Scott Boras, who represents Carlos Correa, the superstar shortstop seeking a long-term deal whose one season in Minnesota can’t be understated in terms of impact.
The Twins haven’t traditionally made huge, blockbuster moves, but club leadership has been plenty busy with impactful decisions in the last few years.
Ahead of the 2020 season, that was the four-year deal to bring Josh Donaldson into the fold and a big trade for Kenta Maeda. Last spring, of course, Correa stunned the baseball world by ending up in a Twins uniform at the conclusion of a chaotic, unprecedented offseason market shaken up by the labor lockout (and that’s not to mention trades for Sonny Gray, Chris Paddack, Gary Sánchez, Gio Urshela and, later in the year, Tyler Mahle and Jorge López).
What’s in store this offseason? It’ll soon be time to find out.
• Sunday, Dec. 4: HOF Contemporary Era ballot results released (Albert Belle, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy, Rafael Palmeiro, Curt Schilling)
• Monday, Dec. 5: All-MLB Team announced
• Tuesday, Dec. 6: Inaugural Draft Lottery, AL/NL Relievers of Year announced
• Wednesday, Dec. 7: Rule 5 Draft
The biggest need is additional clarity on the Correa situation -- and quickly. Players are coming off the board, and it’s feeling like the direction of the Twins’ offseason will hinge on whether they think they can retain their superstar shortstop. If not, do they pivot to another prize shortstop, or will they entrust the stopgap role to newly acquired Kyle Farmer? Do they look for a big move elsewhere on the diamond?
Beyond that, the most mission-critical need is an additional catcher to pair with Ryan Jeffers, who is currently the only backstop on the 40-man roster. The Twins prefer to run a timeshare at catcher, and 2023 should be no different. They could also use an impact right-handed bat, preferably in the outfield, to balance out their lineup.
Potential trade candidates
The Twins have a good deal of left-handed corner outfield depth, highlighted by Max Kepler, a sterling defender in right field on a team-friendly contract who has been speculated as a possible trade candidate for several offseasons. The challenge is that the Twins would be selling low on Kepler, whose OPS plummeted to .666 last season, with the idea that limiting infield shifts could lead to some recouped performance.
Even beyond Kepler, there’s left-handed corner redundancy with Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach and Matt Wallner, a trio of highly regarded former top prospects. It would hurt more for the Twins to part with anyone from that group but could unlock much higher-upside return.
Prospect to know
One big name that has emerged across the last several months has been that of Edouard Julien, the 23-year-old infielder whose prowess for walks (he led the Minors in free passes by a wide margin across the last two seasons) and improving ability to attack hittable pitches led to an incredible showing in the Arizona Fall League. He’s now on the Twins’ 40-man roster and holds the No. 14 spot in the organization’s prospect rankings after posting a .931 OPS with 17 homers and 19 steals for Double-A Wichita last season.
On the pitching side, ‘23 will be an important year for Jordan Balazovic, the onetime top pitching prospect in the organization who tumbled all the way to No. 15 in the prospect rankings following a very challenging ‘22 during which he was initially held back by a knee injury. He struggled to a 7.39 ERA in 22 appearances with Triple-A St. Paul, and it will be imperative for him to show that was a fluke lost season.
Rule 5 Draft
The Twins have one opening on their 40-man roster (created by trading Urshela to the Angels earlier in November for prospect Alejandro Hidalgo), but if recent history is any indication, it would be a surprise to see them make a selection in the Rule 5 Draft, as they haven’t taken a player in the Major League phase since 2017 and frequently run into 40-man roster crunches.
It feels like we’re endlessly harping on this point, but it’s really the pivotal one for this offseason: Will Correa stay, or will he go?
Or, perhaps, phrased another way: Will the Twins be willing to commit to what it takes to keep Correa in Minneapolis with what will surely need to be a club record in terms of both years and dollars?