Twins splash moves

The 2021 season did not go how the Minnesota Twins had hoped.

Minnesota entered spring training as two-time AL Central division champions and had World Series dreams after signing a flurry of veterans to compliment a young, talented core.

However, just about every offseason move the Twins made a year ago backfired in the worst way.

Among players with 450+ plate appearances since 2000, shortstop Andrelton Simmons posted the sixth-worst OPS (.558). J.A. Happ (6.77 ERA) and Matt Shoemaker (8.06 ERA) made the rotation worse. Instead of being the Twins’ go-to reliever, Alex Colomé blew seven save opportunities.

Minnesota also traded outfielder LaMonte Wade Jr. to San Francisco for right-hander Shaun Anderson. The pitcher was put on waivers in June while Wade batted .253/.326/.482 with 18 homers and received an MVP vote.

Yikes.

The Twins brass faces a critical 2021-22 offseason that will likely determine if Minnesota needs to undergo a full-on rebuild or if simply reloading the roster with free-agent signings and trades will do.

Here are five splash moves the Twins could (and, should) do this winter:

1. Sign outfielder Byron Buxton to contract extension. Or … a trade?

The splash move that Twins fans want to happen the most. The majority of Twins fans, anyway. Buxton is entering the final year of arbitration and will be a free agent after the 2022 campaign. His talent level is undisputed. When healthy in 2021, Buxton was hitting at an MVP level and playing the field like the former Platinum Glove winner he is. In 61 games, Buxton hit .306/.358/.647 (1.005 OPS) with 23 doubles and 19 home runs. The issue, as it always has been with Buxton, is health. The former No. 2 overall pick hasn’t played more than 87 games in a season since 2017. In 2021, it was a right hip strain and later a right hand fracture which forced Buxton to miss 101 contests. Still, though, a talent like Buxton doesn’t come along often. Signing him to a long-term deal would lock down one of baseball’s most exciting athletes. When former Twins pitcher José Berríos earned a big deal with Toronto last week, Buxton tweeted his congratulations. He’s ready to get paid.

If he doesn’t want to sign an extension with the Twins, Buxton also could be used as a bargaining chip in trades. Perhaps the Twins could get a top-tier pitcher in exchange for Buxton and a prospect. Speaking of which …

2. Trade for an impact starting pitcher

Berríos is in Toronto. Kenta Maeda underwent Tommy John surgery and will likely miss the entire 2022 season. Michael Pineda is a free agent. That leaves a bunch of unproven pitchers like Randy Dobnak, Griffin Jax, Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan to make up Minnesota’s starting rotation.

If the Twins don’t want to hand out big bucks in free agency, a trade or two is the way to go.

Cincinnati has a pair of starting pitchers worth looking into in Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray. Castillo is a one-time All-Star (2019) who logged an 8-16 record, 3.98 ERA and 9.2 K/9 last summer, the latter which is his second-lowest mark in five seasons. He’s a much better pitcher than those numbers indicate. Castillo’s season got off to a rough start and he settled down in the second half of the year, registering a 3.18 ERA and notching a 10.2 K/9 in his final 14 games. Castillo has two more years of team control before hitting the market after 2023.

Gray, also an All-Star in 2019, had a reverse 2021 season compared to Castillo. He tallied a 3.19 ERA over the first half of the year but it ballooned to 5.03 in his last 14 contests as he allowed multiple runs in his final six starts. Gray is owed $10.4 million in 2022 and has a club option of $12 million next season before becoming a free agent in 2024.

Miami doesn’t have much of a history of success lately but the Marlins do boast a few intriguing pitchers. And they’re always willing to trade. Right-hander Sandy Alcantara just reportedly signed a contract extension so he’s off the market, but Pablo Lopez has three more years of team control and is only 25 years old. In 20 starts for the Marlins in 2021, Lopez collected a 3.07 ERA, 3.29 FIP, 1.120 WHIP and career-best 10.1 K/9. Those numbers would look good in a Twins uniform.

As it normally does, Oakland is likely going to test the trade market. Chris Bassitt, a 32-year-old right-hander, becomes a free agent after the 2022 season. He’s finished in the top-10 for the American League Cy Young award the past two seasons, racking up a 2.90 ERA (142 ERA+) and 3.41 FIP in 38 starts over that span.

There are plenty of options out there.

3. Sign a couple of free-agent starting pitchers

Bringing back Pineda would give the rotation some much-needed stability. Pineda signed a two-year deal worth $20 million ahead of the 2020 season. In 27 games (26 starts), he collected a 3.57 ERA and 1.228 WHIP. Pineda isn’t a guy the Twins would feel invincible with on the mound in Game 1 of a playoff series, but he’s consistent -- something Minnesota needs with all the youth on the pitching staff.

Danny Duffy is a free agent after spending the first 11 seasons of his career with the Kansas City Royals. Last year likely would’ve been the best campaign of Duffy’s career had he stayed healthy. In 13 contests (12 starts), Duffy posted a 2.51 ERA before a strained flexor in his throwing arm sidelined him for the rest of the year. His last start was July 16. The 32-year-old will likely want to sign a multiyear deal. Why not stick in the AL Central?

Robbie Ray is hitting the open marker as the reigning AL Cy Young award winner. That would … certainly be a splash move, but not one we expect the Twins to make.

A cheaper option is left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, who spent the last three seasons in Seattle. In 2021, Kikuchi was named an All-Star after posting a 3.18 ERA and .195 opponent batting average over the first three months of the year. His numbers didn’t look as pretty by October (4.41 ERA, 4.61 FIP) but he helped the Mariners stay in the playoff race until the final day of the season.

4. Sign a game-changing shortstop

As noted above, Minnesota signing Simmons didn’t work as planned. Although he was named a Gold Glove finalist at shortstop, Simmons was a rally killer at the dish while batting .223/.283/.274 in 131 games.

There are big, big names on the market at short. Marcus Semien bet on himself last season and inked a one-year deal worth $18 million with Toronto. He was named an All-Star for the first time and logged an .873 OPS, 45 home runs and 102 RBI while playing in all 162 games for the Blue Jays. Semien played mostly second base (and won a Gold Glove) for the Blue Jays, but he’s open to playing shortstop or second with his next team. This man is ready to be paid.

Trevor Story was once considered one of the best shortstops in baseball. However, his offensive numbers have dipped the past two campaigns, and he batted just .203/.292/.426 away from Coors Field in 2021. Story is still an exciting player, though, posting 20-20 seasons (20+ homers and 20+ stolen bases) in each of his last three full seasons (not counting 2020).

Like Story, Javier Baez isn’t playing at a level that lives up to his name but is a potential buy-low candidate. Baez led the NL with 184 strikeouts last season but hit .265/.319/.494 with 31 homers for Chicago and, later, the New York Mets.

Carlos Correa would, of course, be a dream. He registered a .279/.366/.485 slash line and hit 26 big flies for Houston last season. Correa is only 27 years old. Signing him would arguably be the biggest free-agent signing in Twins history, so we’re not holding our breath.

5. Bring designated hitter Nelson Cruz home

Cruz, who originally arrived in Minnesota in 2019, batted .304/.386/.598 with 76 dingers in 258 contests with the Twins before being traded to Tampa Bay near the ’21 deadline.

He’s a free agent once again. Is it time to bring him home?

After Cruz left, it was Josh Donaldson (34 games), Miguel Sano (11) and Brent Rooker (10) making the most appearances at DH. Having Cruz at designated hitter would add another proven bat to the lineup and would keep Donaldson’s glove in the field. Plus, his leadership is irreplaceable in the clubhouse.

Cruz has proved again and again that age is just a number for him. He wasn’t spectacular with Tampa Bay (.725 OPS in 55 games) but did smack 13 homers for the Rays in the regular season and another in the playoffs.

And, hey, if the 2022 season goes awry, the Twins could always flip him for another couple of exciting prospects.