The Twins’ most significant departure in free agency is undoubtedly Sonny Gray, who was just named the runner-up in American League Cy Young Award voting. But it will be just as significant for the club to figure out how it’s going to replace the production of the likely departing Michael A. Taylor in center field.
At least in theory, there isn’t necessarily a vacancy in center, as the Twins have thus far been adamant that they’ll be looking to get Byron Buxton ready to play at the position in 2024. But in practice, they might still benefit from some help.
They brought in Taylor last offseason in a trade with Kansas City with the idea that it’s not necessarily easy to rely on Buxton’s health without an established backup option until proven otherwise. That was a prudent move, as Taylor made 110 starts in center while Buxton never stepped foot into the outfield.
Now, Taylor is a free agent. Will the Twins look to replace him? If so, how?
“I look at guys in Triple-A or in the Minor Leagues, Austin Martin stepping into some role in center,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said at the end of the season. “These guys are going to all play a role for us. What that looks like, exactly, on our roster, is TBD. Hopefully, Byron is also playing a role in that mix, and we'll see what else.”
Though Martin was drafted as a shortstop, the Twins have worked to make their No. 20 prospect a more versatile defender, and his superior athleticism has led to a very workable center-field option. Minnesota also discovered last year that Castro can hold his own in center.
But would the club be willing to count on those two in the potential absence of Buxton?
That’s the major question here. The Twins love to maintain their defensive flexibility, and pinning Castro to center field, for example, compromises that flexibility to make changes late in games.
Outside the organization
An external acquisition could make sense for a reason outside center field: The Twins have already dropped Jordan Luplow from their roster, leaving the right-handed side of their outfield platoon empty for now. That kind of player, a guy with the ability to play center field, could make sense for their roster composition.
That probably excludes Cody Bellinger, given the left-handed skew of the Twins’ existing group, but there’s no shortage of options in free agency, with the likes of Whit Merrifield, Harrison Bader, Adam Duvall, Aaron Hicks, Kevin Kiermaier (though he’s left-handed) and, of course, Taylor available on the market.
That’s not to mention the possibility of trades -- and that’s a sector in which this front office has never failed to surprise over the past few offseasons.
The original idea behind the acquisition of Taylor last offseason was that he could platoon elsewhere in the outfield next to Buxton, while serving as a solid backup center-field option -- and that came into play. Another acquisition in that mold could make a lot of sense.
“If you take a prime Byron Buxton and sprinkle it on top of what we were doing at the end of the year, that could be a very special type of situation,” manager Rocco Baldelli said at the end of the season. “But we have to get to that point. There's going to be a lot that goes into getting to that point. He's going to do everything on his end that anyone could do to be ready.”