Already active, Twins prep for Winter Meetings

December 6th, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- With the catching and starting-pitching markets already moving quickly, the Twins made their first move on Wednesday by bringing back on a two-year deal, a source told's Jesse Sanchez, ahead of the upcoming Winter Meetings in San Diego. Just one day later, agreed to a one-year deal, a source told's Mark Feinsand, to potentially backstop their returning hurler. The club has not confirmed either deal.

The moves signaled another phase of what promises to be an active offseason for the defending American League Central champions, who likely still need another starter to complement their historically homer-happy offense of a year ago. The Winter Meetings will offer president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine an important opportunity to network with agents and other executives to lay the groundwork for potential trades and signings.

Here's a quick rundown of what the Twins need and where they stand, with baseball's annual gathering set to get underway on Monday.

Club needs: agreed to return on a one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer deal, and Pineda is also back in the fold for a two-year, $20 million deal, according to a source. But the Twins could still look to add at least one more impact starter via free agency or trade following the departures of Kyle Gibson and Martín Pérez, who combined for 58 starts last season.

The Twins got a head start on addressing their backup catching with the 32-year-old Avila, whose one-year deal is worth $4.25 million, according to a source. Next on the list could be a hitter to slot in at first or third base after C.J. Cron was non-tendered at Monday's deadline.

Whom might they trade? Minnesota is in win-now mode with the return of most of the pieces from a historic offense in 2019, so it likely won't be focused on trading away any significant Major League assets.

The Twins do have strong prospect depth throughout their organization to use in trades. Even outside of elite prospects, like right-hander Jordan Balazovic and outfielder Trevor Larnach -- both of whom could headline a splashier deal -- prospects on the cusp of the Majors, like middle infielder Nick Gordon and left-hander Lewis Thorpe, could be appealing to teams seeking young, controllable talent.

Prospects to know: Minnesota's group of top five prospects -- Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff, Brusdar Graterol, Balazovic and Larnach -- should all be in the high Minors to start the season. Graterol appears likely to be back in Minnesota at some point in 2020, while Kirilloff or Larnach could be the next ones to surface further down the line.

Of the five prospects that the Twins protected from the Rule 5 Draft, outfielder Luke Raley seems the closest to his debut and offers Minnesota even more outfield depth. Returning five outfield-capable players from last year means there could be enough of a surplus to fuel a trade. Gordon has been at the cusp of the Majors for some time but is blocked from a starting role by and on top of facing competition for a backup infield role against , and .

Rule 5 Draft: Will any team take a chance on unprotected shortstop Wander Javier, a toolsy and athletic player who received a club-record $4 million signing bonus in 2015 but has struggled to put things together on the field? Javier is the club's No. 7 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, but after missing all of 2018 with a torn labrum and a chunk of 2019 with a quad strain, he did not have a strong '19 in Class A Cedar Rapids.

Payroll summary: The Twins' considerable payroll flexibility should be an asset this offseason, with only around $48.9 million committed to five players -- , , Polanco, Odorizzi and Gonzalez -- before arbitration considerations began. Factoring in Pineda and Avlia’s new deals and projected arbitration costs, the Twins are looking at a commitment in the $95 million range for the time being.

After a postseason appearance in 2017, the Twins front office pushed to a franchise-record Opening Day payroll of $128.4 million in '18. It's not a stretch to think that Minnesota could be in that range -- or beyond -- come Opening Day 2020.

One question: Are the Twins likely to be in on Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg?

Falvey and Levine have made it clear throughout their tenure that they check in on all possibilities, but given the big-market interest in Cole and Strasburg from teams like the Yankees, Dodgers and Angels, it will likely be more prudent for the Twins to focus on the next tier of starting pitchers, headlined by and .

The market for Bumgarner seems to be moving quickly, with's Mark Feinsand having reported that the postseason hero could find a home before the start of the Winter Meetings. Both he and Ryu, the Majors' defending ERA champion, would provide with the Twins the jolt they need in their starting rotation without sacrificing the club's future financial flexibility to the extent that a deal for Cole or Strasburg would.