Twins roster projection 2.0: Late moves have bolstered outlook, but are they done? (2024)

After three months of hibernation, the Minnesota Twins finally made some actual moves, completing three major-league transactions in a week by trading Jorge Polanco for a four-player package from the Seattle Mariners, and signing first baseman Carlos Santana and reliever Jay Jackson as free agents. They also claimed right-handed pitcher Zack Weiss off waivers from the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday, which led to a surprising parting of ways with former top-100 prospect Jordan Balazovic, who was designated for assignment.

“That’s just how the offseason played out for us,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said Wednesday. “It took a little longer for us to maybe unstick some things and open up some doors. We’re still working to try to find ways to add to the roster if we can via trade or some different free agent conversations we’ve been having.”

Advertisem*nt

With spring training starting next week, The Athletic’s Aaron Gleeman and Dan Hayes project the Twins’ Opening Day roster as things stand today and break down what other moves could be coming between now and March 28 in Kansas City.

Catchers (2)

In: Ryan Jeffers, Christian Vázquez

Others on the 40-man roster: Jair Camargo

Gleeman: There hasn’t been any real steam on a possible salary-shedding Vázquez trade, which makes sense given how the Twins talk up the value of catching depth.

At this point, I’d expect them to run it back with the same Jeffers-Vázquez pairing, except with Jeffers getting a larger share of the playing time split than he received early last year. And if/when one of them gets hurt, the Twins have an MLB-caliber backup in Camargo waiting in the Triple-A wings. Pretty good situation.

Hayes: I get the feeling the lessons of 2018 are too fresh for the Twins to have moved on from Vázquez and gone with Jeffers and a rookie, no matter how talented Camargo looks. That season, the Twins intended to go with Jason Castro and Mitch Garver, who entered the year with 50 career MLB innings behind the plate. Garver turned out to be a solid catcher, but he was very green that season and learned on the fly after Castro suffered a season-ending injury in April. The Twins went through that season with Garver and Bobby Wilson as their catching duo.

Were this team not trying to win the division, I could see them going with Jeffers and Camargo. But the Twins believe in a 50-50 split, and short of finding an able-bodied veteran replacement (Martín Maldonado would have been interesting), there’s little chance they were trading Vázquez.

Infielders (6)

In: Carlos Santana, Edouard Julien, Carlos Correa, Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff, Kyle Farmer

Others on the 40-man roster: Jose Miranda, Austin Martin, Yunior Severino

Hayes: Adding the switch-hitting Santana helps the Twins in several ways. First, the move affords either of their young hitters coming off surgeries, Miranda and Kirilloff, time to ensure they’re healthy. Nobody will need to be rushed back.

Advertisem*nt

Second, as you wrote about earlier this week, Santana helps the Twins against left-handed pitching, something they’ve struggled with for several seasons now.

Lastly, and this shouldn’t be overlooked, the veteran gives the Twins a stout defender at a position where they really struggled in 2023. Last season, the Twins produced minus-10 defensive runs saved at first base, according to Sports Info Solutions, which was tied with Kansas City for the worst mark in baseball. Santana wound up as the third-best defensive first baseman, finishing with 7 DRS. Whether he’s there to start games or enter as a defensive replacement, Santana will help immensely.

“I know the division really well and the Twins have players like Carlos Correa, Pablo López and Joe Ryan, players that always show up to the ballpark and always want to win,” Santana said. “With players like that, it motivates you.”

Gleeman: Agreed on Santana. And thank you for reading my article about him. We’re glad to have you as a subscriber and look forward to serving your Twins content needs for this upcoming season.

My main question with Santana is the role/usage, and whether he’s being brought in as a part-timer starting mostly versus lefties or as an everyday first baseman who pushes Kirilloff more towards the DH mix. As a platoon bat, he’s a great fit. As an everyday player, his lack of upside at 38 isn’t ideal. Either way, if the result of signing Santana is Miranda starting the season in St. Paul, that’s probably best for everyone involved after an injury-wrecked 2023.

I was mildly surprised the Twins decided to retain Farmer for $6.3 million via arbitration, but figured they might look to trade him like they did with Gio Urshela in a similar situation last offseason. That hasn’t happened, but Polanco’s exit could clear a bigger role for Farmer than seemed possible previously.

Sure, they could just give Julien the everyday job at second base, but last season when Polanco was sidelined they essentially platooned the lefty Julien and righty Farmer. That’s an arrangement that would still work well, with Farmer facing most lefties and perhaps replacing Julien defensively in the late innings against righties, while also being the main backup at every infield spot. Is that worth $6.3 million? Maybe not, but at the very least it would be a logical, decent-sized role for Farmer.

Outfielders (5)

In: Matt Wallner, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Willi Castro, Nick Gordon

Others on the 40-man roster: Trevor Larnach, Emmanuel Rodriguez

Gleeman: This is basically unchanged since the start of the offseason, other than the Twins becoming more optimistic about Buxton’s chances of being a regular center fielder again after his latest knee surgery. That’s obviously very important, but it doesn’t change the fact that Buxton insurance is still needed. Last season’s insurance, free agent Michael A. Taylor, remains unsigned.

Jax loves it, we love it, Verdugo does not.

Don't run on Michael A. Taylor 😤#MNTwins | #MLB pic.twitter.com/dRqZuCOVr5

— Bally Sports North (@BallySportsNOR) June 22, 2023

They’ve avoided the annual temptation to trade Kepler, but haven’t addressed the long-standing need for a right-handed-hitting corner outfielder to complement him and fellow left-handed hitter Wallner. To me, that’s the most obvious lineup hole left to fill. Gordon isn’t a viable starting option in center field and he’s also a lefty bat, so he’d seemingly be the hitter pushed out by any upcoming arrival.

Hayes: The top priority for this team should be acquiring another front-line starting pitcher. But the top priority most likely to be achieved before the season begins will be the addition of a right-handed-hitting outfielder. The Twins need one badly.

If Buxton isn’t ready or can’t play the full season, they’re in a bad way unless they acquire insurance. I like Martin’s game and think he could fit in center field nicely. But I think the Twins would like to see him stay on the field before they trust him. He’s been limited to 157 games over the past two seasons by injuries.

Advertisem*nt

Whether it’s Taylor, Adam Duvall or someone else, it feels like there are enough options out there for the Twins to solve this with a player who can be helpful and fits within their self-imposed budget.

Starting pitchers (5)

In: Pablo López, Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober, Chris Paddack, Anthony DeSclafani

Others on the 40-man roster: Louie Varland, Matt Canterino, Brent Headrick, Simeon Woods Richardson

Hayes: Varland, who has very good stuff, shouldn’t look at the trade to acquire DeSclafani as an affront, but rather as motivation. Nobody is certain which five starters the Twins will take with them and it wouldn’t be shocking if whichever pitcher didn’t make the group was used as a long man/spot starter in the bullpen.

Regardless of which pitchers are in the Opening Day rotation, there will be plenty of opportunity for the team’s sixth, seventh and eighth starters to make starts this season. DeSclafani hasn’t been healthy enough to pitch a full season since 2021, while López is the only starter in the Twins’ rotation to have made at least 30 starts in a season. Paddack is coming off a second Tommy John surgery, which means the Twins will be careful and proactive with his health and workload this season.

Gleeman: Varland is basically in the same situation as Ober last year, when he was in the Triple-A rotation on Opening Day despite clearly being an MLB-caliber arm because the Twins wanted to have as much rotation depth as possible to withstand injuries. That paid off for the Twins when the inevitable injuries struck, and Ober ended up making 26 starts in the majors. And, unlike Ober last year, Varland could work his way into the Opening Day bullpen mix if manager Rocco Baldelli makes a compelling argument for using his high-octane raw stuff in relief right away.

The Varland Strikes Back.#TwinsWin | #MNTwins pic.twitter.com/xTWUrjErdG

— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) April 15, 2023

Relief pitchers (8)

In: Jhoan Duran, Brock Stewart, Griffin Jax, Caleb Thielbar, Justin Topa, Josh Staumont, Jorge Alcalá, Jay Jackson

Others on the 40-man roster: Kody Funderburk, Cole Sands, Josh Winder, Zack Weiss

Gleeman: Trading for Topa (as part of the Polanco deal) and signing Jackson makes an already good, deep bullpen even stronger. Duran is a stud in the ninth inning, and the Twins’ setup group of Stewart, Jax and Topa from the right side and Thielbar from the left side is potentially very good.

Advertisem*nt

As of now, I’d expect Jackson, Staumount, Alcalá and Funderburk to compete for the final three spots, with Jackson probably having an edge because he’s the only one out of minor-league options and Funderburk possibly having an edge if they want a second lefty alongside Thielbar. Staumont and Alcala also have to simply show they’re healthy, so that’s another factor.

Bullpens are notoriously fickle, because even the top setup men tend to burn bright and fade away, but on paper at least this is one of the best bullpens the Twins have had in years. FanGraphs projects them as the No. 3 bullpen in MLB and the No.1 bullpen in the American League, ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros. Relief pitching has a chance to be a real strength, especially after adding Topa to the mix. He was a lot more than just a throw-in to the Polanco swap.

Hayes: This is a critical year for Alcalá, who is 28 and only has two more seasons until free agency. The Twins hoped for big things from Alcalá when they acquired him and Gilberto Celestino from Houston in exchange for Ryan Pressly. To date, that trade is a stinker for the Twins. Alcalá flashed some promising signs in 2020 and 2021, when he combined to strike out 88 batters in 83 2/3 innings and posted a 3.55 ERA. He began developing his changeup during the 2021 season and the pitch was the best of his three offerings in 2023.

But Alcalá hasn’t been healthy enough to compete for two seasons now. He managed to work way his back to feeling strong at the end of the 2023 season, but it was too late to gain the trust of his manager and Alcalá was left off the playoff roster. Alcalá started strong in winter ball and had a nice scoreless streak going before his final two outings. He finished with a 3.12 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings. More important, Alcalá reported feeling good after making those nine appearances. If the Twins have a healthy Alcalá to be their sixth-best reliever, the bullpen should be in outstanding shape.

While dropping Balazovic is somewhat surprising, the writing was on the wall. At a time in which they hoped he’d elevate, Balazovic struggled and posted a 7.68 ERA in the minors in 2022. Then last year he suffered a broken jaw during spring training as the result of an altercation outside a bar in downtown Fort Myers, Fla. Though Balazovic moved to the bullpen and made his major league debut, he struggled to gain traction. With Balazovic out of options, the Twins opted to move on now instead of trying to trade him later this spring.

(Top photo of Buxton celebrating a home run: Brace Hemmelgarn / Minnesota Twins / Getty Images)

Twins roster projection 2.0: Late moves have bolstered outlook, but are they done? (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Dean Jakubowski Ret

Last Updated:

Views: 6205

Rating: 5 / 5 (50 voted)

Reviews: 89% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Dean Jakubowski Ret

Birthday: 1996-05-10

Address: Apt. 425 4346 Santiago Islands, Shariside, AK 38830-1874

Phone: +96313309894162

Job: Legacy Sales Designer

Hobby: Baseball, Wood carving, Candle making, Jigsaw puzzles, Lacemaking, Parkour, Drawing

Introduction: My name is Dean Jakubowski Ret, I am a enthusiastic, friendly, homely, handsome, zealous, brainy, elegant person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.