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Twins mailbag: Re-signing Sonny Gray, top trade bait, Pablo López and Rule 5 reaction

Welcome to the Minnesota Twins’ offseason.

Free agents are gone, qualifying offers were extended and turned down, the 40-man roster shelves have been decluttered and restocked, and contract choices converted to guaranteed wages. Not to mention that the front office’s warning of lost television revenues leading to decreased payroll has actually taken a few of the helium out of the fan base’s morale after the Twins’ very first playoff run in twenty years.
And now the genuine action can start … well, whenever.

In the meantime, let’s open the mailbag and see what’s on your minds about a division-winning group with a lot of question marks on and off the field.

Sent questions have actually been edited for clearness and length.

With the payroll decreasing, is there realistically any chance the Twins re-sign Sonny Gray?– Rand C.

This extends my streak of answering a minimum of one “will the Twins re-sign Sonny Gray?” concern in every mailbag column of 2023. My response today is the same as it’s been every few weeks considering that spring training: Re-signing Gray is not likely.

From the moment the Twins traded 2021 first-round pick Chase Petty for him in March 2022, the plan was to get two excellent seasons from Gray and after that get a draft pick as settlement when he signed elsewhere as a free agent. Obtaining 2 years of a front-line starter by essentially swapping a 2021 late first-round pick for a 2024 late first-round pick is a clever bit of front-office maneuvering.

Gray is 34 years old and extensively expected to get three- or four-year offers in excess of $20 million per season. The Athletic predicts a three-year, $72 million deal, which’s at the low end of the spectrum compared to FanGraphs (three years, $78 million) and MLB Trade Rumors (four years, $90 million). There is no precedent for the Twins investing that much on a free-agent pitcher.

Michael Pineda’s two-year, $20 million agreement signed in December 2019 was the biggest the Twins have actually offered to a free-agent pitcher in the Derek Falvey-led front office’s seven previous offseasons at the helm. Reducing the payroll makes the Twins marginally less most likely to re-sign Gray, however just in the very same sense that not buying a ticket makes you partially less likely to win the lottery game.
If the Twins trade Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco or another veteran, what will they target in return?– Sean M.

Primarily, MLB or MLB-ready pitching, in the hopes of changing Gray. And if there’s not a pitching fit they like, most likely baseball’s universal trade currency: prospects.
In general, however, I ‘d caution against presuming Max Kepler or Jorge Polanco have big-time trade value provided their ages, wages and remaining group control.

Kepler is an excellent however not excellent 30-year-old corner outfielder entering his final season of team control with a $10 million income. Polanco is a great but oft-injured 30-year-old 2nd baseman with a $10.5 million wage for 2024 and a $12.5 million choice or $2 million buyout for 2025. They carry positive/excess worth relative to their contracts, however only so much and for just so long.

By comparison, Luis Arraez was a 26-year-old reigning batting champ with a $6 million salary and three seasons of team control when the Twins sent him to the Miami Marlins last offseason for Pablo López. Trading one or even both of Kepler and Polanco for a playoff-caliber starting pitcher would be a best-case situation for the Twins.

Hypothetical: Where would the pre-2023 and post-2023 versions of Pablo López rank in this offseason’s free-agent class?– Jeremy B.

I do enjoy hypothetical concerns, however simply to be clear: López was already under group control through 2024 when the Twins acquired him from the Marlins, so he would not be a free agent this offseason even if he had not signed an extension in mid-April.

If you dropped the pre-trade variation of López into this free-agent class, I ‘d put him in the 5-6-7 variety among pitchers, which is where I ranked Gray, Jordan Montgomery and Eduardo Rodriguez on my actual list. His most significant advantage would be age, because the then-27-year-old López would be seven years more youthful than Gray and 4 years more youthful than Montgomery/Rodriguez.

If you dropped the post-trade, Twins version of López into this free-agent class, at age 28 and fresh off a 234-strikeout breakout, there would be a legit case for him as the No. 2 pitcher and No. 2 overall free agent behind Shohei Ohtani. At least, I ‘d anticipate the post-2023, free-agent variation of López to sign for a lot closer to $200 million than $100 million.
Back in reality, where the Twins quickly and wisely signed López to the four-year, $73.5 million extension, he’ll be paid $8 million in 2024 and $21.5 million in each of 2025, 2026 and 2027.

Beyond Max Kepler or Jorge Polanco, which Twins player is probably to be traded this offseason?– Cory M.

Kyle Farmer, assuming he prevents being non-tendered by Friday’s deadline.

While his predicted $6.6 million arbitration wage isn’t that much higher than last season’s $5.6 million, the Twins’ circumstances have altered considering that trading for Farmer this time last year. He was acquired as a placeholder shortstop, however then Carlos Correa re-signed. Farmer is an excellent role player, but the Twins are long on infield depth and brief on costs room.

They ‘d prefer to keep Farmer. He was approximately a league-average bat (98 OPS+) in 369 plate appearances and started 20 or more games at shortstop, third base and second base. He was also favored in the clubhouse and acted as a tough-love mentor for Edouard Julien. Farmer is an ideal backup, but for $6.6 million that’s a high-end product for a team expected to cut payroll.

Farmer will not be a hot product at that salary, so it’s possible he merely gets non-tendered. But comparable to Gio Urshela last offseason, they could be able to trade him for a low-level possibility.

Any surprises for the Twins with Rule 5 defenses?– Andy S.

Two weeks back, I ranked the 10 most popular Twins prospects qualified for the Rule 5 Draft, and they ended up safeguarding 4 of the leading 5 by adding them to the 40-man roster before Tuesday’s deadline. Emmanuel Rodriguez and Austin Martin were no-brainers to protect, and Yunior Severino and Jair Camargo were pretty simple choices too.

“Surprise” might be overselling it a little, but the Twins chose against adding DaShawn Keirsey, who ranked No. 3 on my list after a development season at age 26. Keirsey is one of the company’s fastest gamers and a legitimate protective center fielder, however prior to 2023, the 2018 fourth-round choice profiled as a glove-first MLB backup or Triple-A depth.

Keirsey’s stock rose last season, as he struck.294/.366/.455 with 39 takes in 130 games in between Double A and Triple A, homering 15 times after totaling 14 in his first four pro seasons. If that improvement at the plate is for real, he can be more than merely a prototypical backup outfielder, and right now at least, the Twins could utilize as much center-field depth as possible.

As a late bloomer, Keirsey does not have major upside, however a fast left-handed player who can manage all 3 outfield areas and is coming off a quasi-breakout season in the high minors would seemingly be a popular Rule 5 target for teams searching for plug-and-play depth. Clearly the Twins aren’t believers, or at least want to risk losing him for nothing. We’ll discover on Dec. 6.

Michael Helman, Anthony Prato, Ricardo Olivar, Jose Salas and Aaron Sabato are the other potential customers from my top-10 list who went vulnerable.
Where do you see Louie Varland on Opening Day?– Kent M.

If the season started today, Louie Varland would be the No. 5 starter by default, but by Opening Day he’s most likely to be either in the Triple-A rotation or the Twins’ bullpen.

He profiles as a mid-rotation starter, which has a lot of worth, however the Twins know they’ll need more than 5 beginners to survive any season and would likely choose to have him No. 6 on the depth chart, similar to Bailey Ober last Opening Day. Varland’s raw stuff played up a lot in the September bullpen that the Twins will also be tempted to simply make him a late-inning reliever.

Varland is a huge piece in the 2024 strategies, however he’s also a very versatile piece based upon the Twins’ offseason relocations.

Isn’t the obvious center field solution Max Kepler?– Kurt K.

That ship has actually cruised.

Kepler hasn’t started a video game in center field since 2021, hasn’t played center field frequently given that 2019 and chooses to remain in best field. Beyond that, heading into his age-31 season, it’s unclear he would still be an asset beginning in center field. Kepler remains an exceptional right fielder, however his typical sprint speed last season would have ranked No. 42 out of the 45 most-used center fielders in MLB.

Kepler being more going to play center field for a few video games at a time would have been helpful to the Twins in recent years, however Kepler as the primary center fielder is a concept well past its sell-by date.

Is Trevor Larnach still part of the Twins’ plans?– Brandon B.

Trevor Larnach is absolutely in a difficult spot.

Matt Wallner passed him in the young(-ish) corner outfielder pecking order, so there’s nowhere for Larnach to play if Kepler stays. Kepler getting traded would open an area in the outfield and remove a left-handed player from the lineup, however even in that circumstance, it’s unclear the Twins would hand Larnach the task provided his irregular, largely underwhelming production in the majors and minors.

Larnach has a first-round choice pedigree and looks the part of a middle-of-the-order slugger, however he’s hit simply.222/.315/.385 with 223 strikeouts in 693 plate looks for the Twins and will turn 27 years old before Opening Day. He’s been better at Triple A, but still not terrific, striking.252/.366/.456 in 96 games. He crushes fastballs, however struggles excessive versus off-speed things to see numerous.

There’s a reasonably straightforward path to Larnach remaining in the Opening Day lineup, most likely in left field, with Wallner in ideal field and Kepler on another team. He also has a minor-league choice staying, so Larnach could begin the season as Triple-A depth, whether Kepler is traded. It’s likewise possible the Twins will shop Larnach, although his trade worth is likely modest at this moment.

With the self-imposed payroll constraints, do you see the Twins being more aggressive with their prospects?– Thad N.

Yes. It will require relying more on young, minimum-salaried players to fill key functions earlier than they may otherwise have actually been depended on to do so. And as we just saw with the Twins’ standout 2023 rookie class, that doesn’t need to be a bad thing. Offered the right talent, getting younger and cheaper can be a favorable, however it makes it more difficult to stockpile quality depth and decreases the margin for error.

Their approach to filling the blank space atop the depth chart in center field, as well as the previously mentioned Farmer situation, are prime examples of the ways in which the Twins’ shrinking payroll limits roster-building choices and points them toward younger, more affordable options. If those younger/cheaper gamers are talented and prepared to thrive, it’s excellent. But if they aren’t, there’s trouble.
Which rookies could make an impact for the Twins in 2024?– Maya L.

It’ll be nearly impossible to get the very same kind of impact/value from novices as last season, when Royce Lewis, Julien, Wallner and Varland finished to MLB, however the Twins do have another wave of excellent prospects close to the major leagues.

I ‘d expect to see Twins top-10 potential customers Martin, Brooks Lee and David Festa at Target Field next summer season, and Rodriguez and Marco Raya could also force their way into the 2024 plans. Some other Twins potential customers to enjoy as possible 2024 role players consist of Matt Canterino, Jordan Balazovic, Brent Headrick, Simeon Woods Richardson, Camargo, Severino, Keirsey and Helman.

Why didn’t Royce Lewis get any choose Novice of the Year?– Christian Z.

Lewis had a terrific and exceptionally encouraging rookie season, however he also played just 58 games and didn’t finish among the American League’s top five novices in homers, RBIs, runs, steals, strolls, strikes, extra-base hits, overall bases, times on base or wins above replacement.

While rather less so than other season-long awards, Rookie of the Year is based upon quality and quantity. Lewis had sufficient of the previous and not almost enough of the latter. Which takes absolutely nothing away from his enormous long-lasting benefit.

Will the Twins have THC concession stands at Target Field?– Patrick K.

I can’t envision they would, however here’s a little secret: Every concession stand can be a THC concession stand if you plan your day right.

Is the offseason enough time for you to miss out on Dan Hayes?– Ethan A.

It’s been a little over a month given that we saw each other, and I’ll see Disco Danny in three weeks at the Winter Conferences in Nashville. I’m simply hoping that’s long enough to keep my eyes from rolling totally out of my head when he begins his usual spiel about Brock Purdy being the next Tom Brady.

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