MINNEAPOLIS -- The offseason hit Minnesota far sooner than most around Twins Territory might have hoped following a 101-win campaign and an American League Central championship, but there's no shortage of questions for team leadership -- and fans -- to think about as the focus turns to 2020.
What might Minnesota's starting rotation look like on Opening Day? What could the shuffle around salary arbitration look like for a young Twins roster? Who could be in line for contract extensions?
There are obviously plenty of pressing questions as to how the Twins might approach free agency and the trade market, but there are few answers at this early stage of the offseason, with the postseason still in progress. There will be more than enough time to address those as the winter months drag on. For now, let's address some more internal questions in the first offseason edition of the Twins Inbox.
So many players and prospects are facing arbitration -- can you walk us through who is on that list and what the options truly are for the Twins moving into 2020?
Good question, especially since many of the players in the Twins' young core are now entering (or getting deeper into) their arbitration years.
The Twins' arbitration-eligible players this offseason are: C.J. Cron, Sam Dyson, Ehire Adrianza, Trevor May, Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sanó, Tyler Duffey, José Berríos, Ronald Torreyes, Byron Buxton and Taylor Rogers.
The first decision comes in early December, when the Twins need to decide whether or not they will tender one-year contract offers to each of those players. Dyson is an example of a non-tender candidate, as his season-ending right shoulder surgery in September is expected to keep him away from a Major League mound for most -- if not all -- of next season.
For most of the others, I'd expect that the decisions won't be all too difficult. Adrianza, May, Rosario, Sanó, Duffey, Berríos, Buxton and Rogers appear almost certain to be tendered contracts. Other candidates, like Torreyes and Cron, could offer tougher decisions, as we'll explore later on in this Inbox.
The other factor is that the Twins could make the decision to negotiate extensions with some of their arbitration-eligible players, which has become more of an industry-wide trend in recent years.
Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler both notably signed such extensions last Spring Training, when they inked five-year deals with a handful of options tacked on to the end, which bought out their remaining years of arbitration. That offers financial security to young players while giving teams better cost certainty. As for who could be in that conversation ...
Which players do you think make the most sense for the Twins to offer an extension to this offseason? Extensions similar to the ones (Jorge) Polanco and (Max) Kepler received last offseason in particular?
Berríos and Buxton are the two candidates that jump off the page for me, and Sanó could also be in the conversation.
Let's consider where Kepler and Polanco were at in their careers when the Twins signed that pair to extensions last spring. The Twins thought that Kepler was primed for a breakout, but that full potential hadn't necessarily been reflected in his stats yet. Polanco showed off signs of progress and performance in an abbreviated 2018 season but could likely have been signed at a slight discount due to his recent suspension and the resulting lack of opportunity to post those stats over a full campaign.
In my mind, Buxton fits into that mold. Coming off a disappointing 2018, I think the center fielder showed the Twins enough of his game-changing ability on the field when healthy this year for a more firm commitment to his future. A solid extension offer could also be a strong gesture from the Twins after Buxton was openly upset about not having been recalled from Triple-A Rochester at the end of last season, which also delayed his free agency by one more year.
Meanwhile, the Twins have made every indication that Berríos is a firm part of their future plans. Though the 25-year-old right-hander scuffled a bit in the second half of 2019, he also showcased consistency in pitching deep into games while limiting damage, flashes of complete dominance and a continued increase in his workload.
Sanó could be in the same boat as Buxton as the slugger comes off a productive abbreviated season, especially if the Twins think that the third baseman can continue to improve the quality of his at-bats and maintain the physical conditioning that he worked hard to attain last offseason. Rosario could also be a candidate, though the continued progress of top outfield prospects like Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach could play a factor in his long-term future.
Who will be the Twins starting first baseman?
Essentially, this boils down to whether the Twins will non-tender Cron or bring him back for his final year of arbitration eligibility. MLB Trade Rumors projects that Cron will earn $7.7 million in 2020, coming off a season in which the first baseman hit 25 homers but posted a relatively pedestrian 101 wRC+ for the season.
Cron was clearly bothered by a bruised right thumb that persisted throughout the second half and sapped much of his production, as he posted a .700 OPS and only eight of his homers following the All-Star break. He could also be in line for surgery on the thumb this offseason, pending medical consultation.
With that said, barring any significant setback with the thumb this offseason, I wouldn't be surprised to see Cron back at first base in 2020, especially since the Twins' top two prospects there -- Brent Rooker and Luke Raley -- haven't yet debuted and spent much of the season on the injured list. It would only be a one-year commitment to Cron, who has plenty of power, a solid glove and likely more upside than any of the stopgap free agent options.
How does the possible arrival of Kirilloff and/or Royce Lewis over the next season or season and a half play into the Twins' thinking this offseason, if at all?
I'd be surprised if that had a significant impact on how the Twins approach this offseason. Since they will likely enter 2020 as a favorite to win the division, their focus should be on locking down sure production to take advantage of their opening window of contention.
Lewis and Kirilloff -- the organization's top two prospects respectively -- have rightly been touted during their journey through the Minor Leagues. Let's throw Larnach into that bucket, too. But it's worth remembering that none of them have played a day in Triple-A, and it would be a significant roll of the dice for a team with championship hopes to rely on any level of consistent production from prospects as they get acclimated to the Major Leagues in the next year or two.
Of course, you have the pleasant surprises like Yordan Alvarez or Luis Arraez, who hit the ground running in the Majors and immediately established themselves as meaningful pieces of playoff teams. But as a cautionary tale, remember how long it has taken both Sanó and Buxton to reach their full potential. That's not to say that Lewis and Kirilloff won't contribute, because they certainly have more than enough talent to do so. But any of that production will likely come as an added bonus -- and as a good problem to have.
Who is the funniest Minnesota Twin?
Sergio Romo. If you want to limit the search to those that are still on contract, then I can't decide between Willians Astudillo, Duffey, Randy Dobnak and Rogers. (Funniest around the media, at least. I can't speak to what happens when we're gone.)