Inbox: How will Twins approach free agency?

September 24th, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS -- A disappointing 2018 season is coming to an end for the Twins, who wrap things up with a seven-game homestand that begins on Tuesday and includes a doubleheader against the White Sox on Friday.
Minnesota has actually been solid at home with a 43-31 record that's been overshadowed by a 29-52 record away from home that featured a club-record 15 walk-off losses. There's not much left to salvage this year, and there are more eyes toward next year, which brings us to our first question in this week's Inbox.

It's going to be an interesting offseason for the Twins, as the club has a lot of money coming off the books, including Joe Mauer's $23 million salary and 's $13.5 million salary. They have roughly $30 million committed to four players next year in catcher , reliever , right-hander and roughly $6.5 million owed to the since-departed Phil Hughes. They'll have up to 10 players eligible for arbitration, but they will still have plenty of money to spend.
The front office will have to decide when to use that financial flexibility, as they must evaluate if they believe they can compete next year or wait until the next wave of top prospects such as Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff arrive. Twins manager Paul Molitor said without hesitation on Sunday that Minnesota fully intends on competing next year.
As for the free-agent targets, it would only be speculation to look at names at this point, but it's clear the Twins need more starting pitching, a closer and infield help after the departures of and . They could also looking for a catcher, although they'll have , and Castro on the roster next year. And if Mauer decides to retire, they could be in the market for a first baseman/designated hitter to pair with . Mauer is expected to make a decision early in the offseason, which will make it easier on the front office.

Jake Cave has been a pleasant surprise this season since being acquired from the Yankees in Spring Training, getting thrust into a prominent role because of 's injuries and offensive struggles. He has some power, as evidenced by his .261/.304/.467 line with 12 homers and 14 doubles in 85 games. But strikeouts remain an issue for Cave, with 95 in 282 plate appearances, and he doesn't walk enough to make up for it.
Cave also looks to be more of a corner outfielder than a true center fielder, so having him replace Buxton would be a downgrade at the position. Max Kepler still has much to prove offensively, but he is more advanced than Cave at this point. Cave, though, figures to be at least a solid fourth outfielder and could develop into more, but it doesn't appear likely he'll be a starting outfielder to open next season.

The Twins have essentially used the past few months as a tryout for next season, with inexperienced players such as Austin, Cave, Astudillo and pitchers , Kohl Stewart and getting plenty of playing time. Austin, Cave and even Astudillo have put themselves in good shape for next year, while there have been mixed results with the rookie pitchers. But starting pitcher-wise, they'll bring back , , Jake Odorizzi and the injured Pineda. Of the relievers, the only locks heading into next year would be , , and Reed (because of his contract situation).
Of course, this roster is without , , Buxton and Garver, and barring any trades, all will be back next year. has also continued to establish himself, but there's still a chance he could move from short to second, depending on what Minnesota does this offseason. But given the turnover, nearly half the roster could be new next year.
As far the second part, I'll go with May in a "Fortnite" competition. He's an impressive player and well known within gaming circles.

It's a fair question, as Buxton and his agents were not happy with the decision to shut him down after the Minor League season and not be recalled as a September callup. Buxton's camp sees it as a service-time issue, as the Twins get an extra year of control by not bringing him up.
Minnesota general manager Thad Levine talked openly about how they need to mend that relationship going forward as a result, but it's not going to happen overnight. Buxton has reason to be miffed, but he also struggled this year and was coming off a left wrist injury. It's something to monitor going forward, as he remains an integral piece for the organization and the front office needs to make sure it doesn't have a disgruntled player in a clubhouse that already had several players quietly take issue with the decision not to bring up Buxton.