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It's crucial the Twins address these 3 issues

November 24, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- The additions of three prospects to the 40-man roster in order to protect them from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft finally added some level of activity to a largely quiet offseason for the Twins. That's no surprise though, with most of the cogs in the big free-agency machine

MINNEAPOLIS -- The additions of three prospects to the 40-man roster in order to protect them from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft finally added some level of activity to a largely quiet offseason for the Twins. That's no surprise though, with most of the cogs in the big free-agency machine likely to move slower this offseason ahead of a large wave of anticipated non-tenders and financial uncertainties around the league.

Instead of the traditional Inbox this week, I decided instead to highlight the three things I'm thinking about right now in Twins-land as we head into the Thanksgiving break.

1) The Cruz question
Nelson Cruz has been the Twins' best hitter for two years. He's well-liked in the clubhouse, a beacon of community service and adored by fans around Twins Territory. Both sides have made it known that they're open to a reunion, but the business of baseball is omnipresent, and my colleague Jon Paul Morosi reported Thursday that it's unlikely that Cruz will sign anywhere until he has more clarity regarding whether the universal designated hitter will be used in 2021.

That makes all the sense in the world for Cruz, of course. As much as he said that he enjoyed his time in Minnesota, this could be his final major contract, and whether for his family or charitable contributions in the Dominican Republic, the extra money makes a difference. His last deal with the Twins was for one year with a club option, and given his resounding success in both years, a two-year deal doesn't seem an unreasonable ask, even at age 40.

The expansion of the DH to the National League could make it even more likely that Cruz's asking price will go up. Should the Twins follow beyond a year if needed?

Losing Cruz wouldn't be the end of the world for the lineup. The Twins have no shortage of talent to rotate through the DH spot, from Josh Donaldson, Miguel Sanó and Mitch Garver to a bevy of bat-first, average-in-the-field prospects like Alex Kirilloff (Minnesota's No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline), Trevor Larnach (No. 3) and Brent Rooker (No. 12). And though Cruz has shaken off the aging curve to this point, his hard-hit rate and barrel rate numbers took a dip in 2020, and his average exit velocity fell to his lowest mark of the Statcast era (since '15).

What's more, the historical context for expecting elite contributions from Cruz is slim. In MLB's expansion era (since 1961), there have only been 16 qualified player seasons with an above-average OPS+, of which only five have been at age 41 or older. Cruz is entering his age-40 season, but keep in mind that he's the oldest possible 40, as his birthday is one day after MLB's season-age cutoff.

Offseason checklist: Twins' needs and moves

I still don't think a two-year commitment to Cruz should be a non-starter. Firstly, consider that Eddie Rosario is a strong candidate to be non-tendered and that Donaldson's health is still a question. If the Twins lose Cruz, they're likely saying goodbye to their Nos. 3 and 4 hitters with uncertainty in the No. 2 spot, and relying on talented but unproven prospects for important offensive contributions.

Not ideal for a win-now team seeking a third consecutive division title.

The relative youth of the roster also plays in Cruz's favor because his strong impact on the younger hitters has been well-established, and even if his production in a possible second year isn't necessarily worth the value, the first year of the deal would provide a solid insurance policy for the young bats, with the hope that any regression from Cruz would be made up for by continued progression from those prospects, who no longer would have as much pressure to step up and immediately contribute.

2) Who's in left?
As mentioned, the Cruz question is more important because Rosario is a prime candidate to be non-tendered ahead of the Dec. 2 deadline. Rosario has been a fan favorite and one of the Twins' most consistent power threats over his six years in Minneapolis, but his low on-base rates, likely raise due from a $7.75 million salary in 2020 and glut of corner-outfield prospects in the high Minors could mean Rosario won't be in left field for the Twins come Opening Day.

If not Rosario, then who?

Since the Twins have needs in the starting rotation and bullpen and also need to sign some infield depth to replace Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza, an external signing appears unlikely. That leaves internal candidates like Jake Cave and LaMonte Wade Jr, and prospects including Kirilloff and Rooker.

In the long term, the answer is likely Kirilloff or Larnach, the Nos. 2 and 3 prospects in the organization thought to be cornerstones of the club's future years. Kirilloff, of course, made his MLB debut in Game 2 of the American League Wild Card Series against the Astros and should factor into the picture at outfield or first base in 2021. But in the short term, Rooker and Cave might platoon until Kirilloff is promoted in the middle of the season.

There might be a chance for Rooker to win the job outright if he recovers from the fractured right forearm that ended his promising 2020 season and returns to the form that saw him hit .316/.381/.579 with a homer and two doubles in seven games. It's more likely that the Twins elevate him to the roster for Opening Day considering that he's older (26) than Kirilloff (23), and Kirilloff's stage of development.

3) The future is now
Jordan Balazovic joined the 40-man roster on Friday, marking the fourth of the club's top six prospects, per MLB Pipeline, to have that distinction. The other two -- Royce Lewis and Larnach -- also likely to impact the team in 2021.

Not only does this make for a fun transition to the future core of the organization, it also means that the Twins will be in the midst of hoping that their window of contention can weather all of the possible bumps in the road as they acclimate four likely lineup mainstays and two rotation fixtures to the Majors. The upside is sky-high, but prospect maturation is never a given.

For many teams with a huge upcoming prospect class, this stage would involve giving many of them MLB experience to aid in their continued development and future production. Instead, in Minneapolis, there's a fine line between trying to win now with the current core and making sure the next core is ready to take over in a year or two -- and that's what makes this time so exciting to watch.

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.