The offseason moves have begun.
The Twins picked up the club options on second baseman Jorge Polanco ($10.5 million) and Max Kepler last week. They also extended a qualifying offer to starting pitcher Sonny Gray. Gray, who is widely expected to decline the offer and test free agency, has until Nov. 14 to make a decision.
As the offseason begins, it has become clear that the Twins’ payroll will not be as high as it was in 2023, in part because of the end of their television contract, when it was at their all-time high around $155 million. That could force the Twins to be more creative when trying to address roster needs this season. Here’s a look at three of their most important areas to address this winter:
Kenta Maeda is a free agent. And in a matter of days, if Gray declines the qualifying offer, he will be a free agent as well — and one who will likely command a multi-year deal richer than what Twins would be willing to offer him.
The Twins have Pablo López, Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober and Chris Paddack in place, with Louie Varland as an option to start, as well. But they’ll need to add some depth in the form of at least one starting pitcher —and finding one of Gray’s caliber or close to it won’t come cheap.
If the Twins aren’t going to be major players in free agency, as it seems, that would mean they’ll have to part with either major league or prospect talent to fill the spot via trade. The Twins have often gone this route instead of free agency to restock their rotation — Gray, Maeda, López, Ryan, Paddack and Tyler Mahle are all recent starters whom the Twins have acquired via trade.
The Twins have one of the best defensive center fielders in the game on their roster — they just don’t have any sense for how many games they might be able to rely upon him at the position.
Byron Buxton did not play a single major-league game in the outfield last season, meaning the Twins must make alternate plans for the position as an insurance policy. The 29-year-old underwent a second knee surgery this offseason in hopes that he could get back into the outfield next season, but at this point, it’s hard to envision him having a starter-type workload.
Michael A. Taylor was acquired last year to be Buxton’s backup but instead turned into the starter in center with Buxton entrenched at designated hitter. Taylor is a free agent and the Twins could try to bring him back or look at other options. Harrison Bader and Kevin Kiermaier are among the other center fielders on the free-agent market who could be within the Twins’ price range if they choose to go that route to address the position.
The Twins’ other needs pale in comparison to the first two, which are of much bigger concern. With Emilio Pagán ticketed for free agency, they could be in the market for some relief pitching help, though this front office has never invested heavily in relief arms.
They’ll also need an answer at first base, which will require assessing Alex Kirilloff’s readiness after an offseason shoulder surgery — one which was less invasive than they initially thought it might be.
The hope is that Kirilloff can handle much of that workload, but the former first-round draft pick’s first three seasons in the majors have all ended in surgery — two on his wrist, one on his shoulder — and the 26-year-old has never played 90 games in a season.
Last year, the right-handed Donovan Solano took a good amount of the at-bats at first base, but Solano is now a free agent. Among the internal options, perhaps Jose Miranda could play some first base, though the Twins don’t have great clarity on what to expect from him after his own shoulder injury led to a lost season for the 25-year-old.
That could lead the Twins to potentially look externally for another right-handed option who can play some first base.
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