MINNEAPOLIS -- Just more than a month remains until what would normally be the start of Spring Training, but uncertainty still reigns around much of the league. The direction of the American League Central has grown a bit clearer with the moves by the White Sox before the new year and Cleveland's anticipated trade of superstar Francisco Lindor on Thursday, but the free-agent market has yet to get going and the Twins are still biding their time.
Right-handed reliever Hansel Robles remains the only free agent signed to the Major League roster at this point in the offseason, with several other boxes yet to be checked. What more needs to happen for the Twins now? Read on in this edition of the Twins Inbox to find out.
With the Indians now out of contention for the AL Central title, what do the Twins need to do this offseason to stay on top of the White Sox [and win the division] for the third year in a row?
I'm not sure that the Lindor trade changes too much as far as how the Twins should approach the offseason. Cleveland falling back in the race (on paper) doesn't affect Minnesota's desire to put together the best team possible, and the team-building philosophy isn't really affected by the fact that Chicago -- and not Cleveland -- now looks to be the primary team to beat.
With that in mind, the goals remain largely unchanged. The Twins still need pitching help -- in the rotation and the bullpen -- to maintain their solid performance as a staff from the past two seasons. Minnesota quietly posted some of the most productive all-around pitching in the league in 2019 and '20, and that pitching prowess in particular carried them to last season's AL Central title while the offense underperformed. Wes Johnson, Pete Maki and their staff are great at making the most of the talent that they're given, but the quantity of that talent needs to be fortified.
And don't underestimate the importance of a good utility player that you can plug in everywhere around the diamond. Marwin Gonzalez arrived to the Twins before the 2019 season without a clear position fit, but he played in 167 games across his two years in Minnesota. The Twins have some measure of depth on their pitching staff in the form of young prospects, but their utility-infield depth at this point is Travis Blankenhorn and Nick Gordon, neither of whom is a proven contributor. I think filling Gonzalez's spot will sneakily be very important.
What’s the catcher situation shaping up to be this year? Will manager Rocco Baldelli stick with his platoon system and a mix of Mitch Garver/Ryan Jeffers/Willians Astudillo, or will there be more of a primary/backup system?
I'd assume it'll be another strong platoon between Garver and Jeffers. Even in 2019, when Garver was having one of the more exemplary offensive seasons by a catcher in MLB history, Baldelli kept a roughly 50-50 split in playing time between him and Jason Castro. In fact, I'd be surprised to see a more primary-backup system (at least, to the extent to which we've grown accustomed) with this leadership group in Minneapolis.
They treat the baseball season as a 162-game marathon, with an eye toward having the best possible team in September and October, when the games matter most. It's not tough to see that philosophy at work in their player usage over their past two seasons and how they're talking about Josh Donaldson's usage this coming season (take it easy on him at the start, push him later in the year).
With that in mind, there's no reason to carry two starting-caliber catchers in Garver and Jeffers and expose either to a greater risk of injury earlier in the season. Jeffers had the hot hand at the end of the 2020 season and the Twins clearly think he's MLB-ready, but Garver also has truly rare offensive potential that he showed in '19, and that version of him is somewhere in there, too.
How long will the Twins wait [to make a move this offseason]?? What's a priority, SS or SP??
There's been a recent buzz of the Twins looking for a shortstop, but I'd think that a starting pitcher is a greater priority for the 2021 team. Minnesota can survive -- and likely do well -- in '21 without acquiring a starting-caliber shortstop, since they do have pieces in place all around the infield, even with injury questions at every position. On the other hand, I'm not sure they can do without starting help considering the departures of Jake Odorizzi and Rich Hill from the '20 rotation.
Top prospects Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran should be up at some point to bolster the starting rotation, but considering the injury issues that the Twins have had on their pitching staff over the past two seasons, they would initially make more sense as depth pieces ready to step up in case of injury instead of candidates to immediately be counted on to perform. As things currently stand, the Twins would need to count on either Duran, Balazovic, Devin Smeltzer or Lewis Thorpe to fill the fifth rotation spot, and I can't imagine them going into the season with that kind of uncertainty.
Do the Twins have any interest in DJ LeMahieu? I think he would be a great utility player that could fill in as insurance for anyone in the infield should they get hurt. Or will he cost too much?
The Twins wouldn't be doing their due diligence if they didn't at least check in on major free agents, but it will almost certainly be too costly to land a player the caliber of LeMahieu considering that the Yankees are said to have quite the vested interest in a reunion with the infielder. The Twins have too many holes to fill on the roster to get in that magnitude of a bidding war.
Do you think the Twins make a serious push for Trevor Story? I really like the idea of adding someone like him. Or do you think it is more likely we would pursue someone like Jon Gray or another SP?
It's tough to argue with the idea of adding a player the caliber of Story, but as I mentioned earlier, I would think a starting pitcher would be a greater priority. (Now, if the Twins can't settle on a reunion with Nelson Cruz, adding another starting-caliber hitter will grow far more important.)
The one question I have in making a trade for a player like Story, especially with the Cruz question still in the air, is that the kind of prospect return the Rockies would want could make more sense in a case like with the Mets and Lindor, where the sides could negotiate on a long-term extension to give the club added value beyond the one remaining year under contract. There's not much need for a long-term solution at shortstop for now, with top prospect Royce Lewis set to impact the club within the next year or so. The free-agent shortstop market also has several options available like Marcus Semien, Didi Gregorius and Andrelton Simmons.
When the Twins acquired Kenta Maeda before the '20 season, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine mentioned that Maeda's remaining years of club control were a significant part of his appeal in a blockbuster trade. A short-term rental could make more sense as a midseason trade considering all of the uncertainty -- in finances and scheduling -- surrounding the 2021 season and the holes in production that the Twins still have to fill this offseason.
Is there a wild card player in 2021 that might get a callup? One pitcher and one positional player?
I'll limit myself to players who aren't on the 40-man roster.
Pitcher: Griffin Jax. Solid numbers at all levels of the Minors (though he doesn't strike out too many), and he was in big league camp before the 2020 season. Among more experienced options, Derek Law could be another slider darling in the bullpen.
Hitter: JT Riddle. This one was tougher, but infield depth looks like it could be the biggest area of emergency need, and Riddle is a career shortstop with big league experience who also has superutility potential.
Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.