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This is the latest entry in MLBTR’s Offseason In Review series. The full index of Offseason In Review posts can be found here.

The first offseason of the Twins’ new-look front office was headlined by a litany of Brian Dozier trade rumors that never came to fruition. Ultimately, the winter proved to be a quiet one for a club that has spent the better part of a decade in the American League Central cellar.

Major League Signings

Trades and Claims

  • Claimed SS/2B/3B Ehire Adrianza off waivers from the Brewers
  • Acquired Rule 5 RHP Justin Haley from the Angels in exchange for cash
  • Traded RHP Pat Light to the Pirates for cash

Extensions

  • None

Notable Minor League Signings

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

The 2016-17 offseason marked the first test for new chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine — the two men that were tasked with leading the new Twins front office following the surprising dismissal of Minnesota GM Terry Ryan (now a special advisor with the Phillies). Those unfamiliar with the Twins may raise an eyebrow at calling it “surprising” for a 100-loss team to fire its GM, but virtually no organization has shown loyalty in its front office and coaching staff like the Twins. Incredibly, Falvey is just the fourth man to assume the top spot in Minnesota’s baseball ops hierarchy since 1985.

Derek Falvey | Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

While Falvey and Levine didn’t gut their new roster in the same manner that some of their peers have in recent offseasons upon being hired (e.g. Jerry Dipoto in Seattle, David Stearns in Milwaukee), the new Minnesota duo did cut ties on one of the team’s longest-tenured players in the form of Trevor Plouffe. Rather than pay the third baseman a projected arbitration salary north of $8MM, Minnesota outrighted Plouffe, clearing a path for Miguel Sano to man third base.

Along those same lines, Falvey and Levine waited until late in the offseason to designate Byung Ho Park for assignment, banking on the fact that the remaining $9.25MM on his contract would allow him to pass through waivers and remain in the organization without occupying a 40-man spot. That’s exactly how the situation panned out, and he’ll now look to work his way back to the Majors after a strong Spring Training once he returns from an injury in Triple-A.

While an overabundance of corner/DH options (many of whom haven’t been impressive) has been a recent issue for the Twins, catching has been a need in Minnesota since concussions and back injuries forced Joe Mauer to vacate his lifelong position and move to first base. The post-Mauer days have seen the Twins turn to Kurt Suzuki for three years and a long list of less-productive options, including Ryan Doumit, Josmil Pinto, Drew Butera, Chris Herrmann, John Ryan Murphy, Juan Centeno and Eric Fryer.

The first significant move for Falvey and Levine was to shore up the catching spot with a plus defender — something they lacked during the three-year term of Suzuki. Suzuki was often a passable offensive option, relative to other backstops, but he struggled greatly in throwing out runners and in framing pitches. No team caught fewer than the 64 runners the Twins have thrown out in stolen base attempts from 2014-16. (And it’s not particularly close, with the Rockies and White Sox tied for the next-fewest at 82.)

Jason Castro’s three-year, $24.5MM deal might’ve seemed steep based on his offensive struggles, but he grades out as one of baseball’s best framers and threw out base thieves at a 30.4 percent clip in 2015-16. Pitching has been one of the Twins’ greatest ills since their 2011 downward spiral, and Castro should help out the staff in a number of ways. Castro’s struggles against lefties may have prompted Falvey and Levine to bring in a player with whom they’re quite familiar in veteran backstop Chris Gimenez. After spending time with Falvey’s Indians and Levine’s Rangers in recent years, Gimenez broke camp as the backup to Castro in Minnesota, giving the club a platoon option with solid glovework himself.

Bullpen depth has been an issue for the Twins in recent seasons, and while Matt Belisle is hardly a big-name addition, he represented a highly affordable option (one year, $2.05MM) that has pitched to a combined 2.15 ERA across 79 2/3 innings over the past two seasons. He doesn’t miss many bats — an all-too-common trend among Twins pitchers — but has enjoyed relatively consistent success dating back to the 2010 campaign.

Questions Remaining

The biggest question surrounding the Twins this offseason was whether they should pull the trigger on a trade of Brian Dozier on the heels of the second baseman’s 42-homer campaign. Unfortunately for Minnesota, it was hardly a seller’s market. Only the Dodgers and Angels truly needed second base upgrades, and the Halos’ lackluster farm system made it difficult to pursue a premium trade target.

Rumors tying the Dodgers to Dozier persisted for the better part of two months. Specific machinations vary from report to report, but the general, underlying theme seems fairly clear. The Dodgers felt comfortable parting with promising right-handed pitching prospect Jose De Leon in a straight-up swap for Dozier, while the Twins wanted at least one quality second piece. Early reports had the Twins pursuing top-level second pieces such as Cody Bellinger and Yadier Alvarez, though later reports indicated that lesser-regarded names like Brock Stewart were off the table as a secondary piece, as well. Ultimately, L.A. swapped De Leon for Logan Forsythe in a one-for-one exchange.

So, the Twins entered 2017 with Dozier again in the heart of their lineup, and the question now turns to whether it was a mistake not to flip him for De Leon. Certainly, the 24-year-old De Leon is a promising piece, but there’s serious risk in swapping a proven big leaguer for just one pitching prospect (as Twins fans know all too well from the Denard Span / Alex Meyer trade), and Dozier could be in higher demand this summer. Dozier’s quietly been one of the game’s better second basemen for the past four seasons (16.4 fWAR, 17.8 rWAR), but a sudden downturn in performance or a significant injury could make the decision to hold look ill-advised.

Looking to the rest of the roster, the Twins face a familiar refrain. There are question marks up and down the rotation, the bullpen could be thin, and the lineup is extremely dependent on a number of high-ceiling but unproven position players.

Ervin Santana has been somewhat quietly excellent since last June, and Hector Santiago is off to a nice start as he looks to rebound from a terrible stint with Minnesota last season. Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson and Adalberto Mejia (acquired last summer for Eduardo Nunez) all broke camp in the rotation, but Mejia’s already been optioned out after struggling. Hughes’ velocity is down after thoracic outlet surgery last summer, and Gibson hasn’t shown signs of righting the ship after a down year in 2016.

The Twins lost one rotation candidate early in spring when Trevor May tore his UCL and required Tommy John surgery. It’s possible that Tyler Duffey could get another look in the rotation, with other candidates including once-vaunted prospect Jose Berrios (who was shelled in his first tastes of the Majors last year) or well-regarded lefty Stephen Gonsalves. Former top picks Kohl Stewart and Tyler Jay don’t appear to be especially close, and Jay is in fact now being developed as a reliever. Suffice it to say, the rotation picture is murky, at best.

Adding Belisle to the bullpen was a fine low-cost/low-risk move, but the Twins’ relief corps is still rife with uncertainty. Glen Perkins will be out until at least June following last year’s shoulder surgery, and it remains to be seen if Brandon Kintzler can sustain his 2016 success. Ryan Pressly pitched well from 2014-16, and Taylor Rogers looked like a solid lefty upon debuting in 2016. Beyond that, the Twins are counting on a hodgepodge of inexperienced arms and reclamation projects (e.g. Craig Breslow) to buttress a shaky rotation.

The lineup comes with similar questions. Each of Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler has frequented top 100 prospect lists in recent years, and each has had some big league success. But, none of the bunch has solidified himself as a big league regular just yet. Buxton’s early struggles, in particular, lead to further questions for this team.

In the infield, Jorge Polanco opened the year as the everyday shortstop despite the fact that scouting reports peg him as a better option at second base or third base. Sano, meanwhile, needs to prove that he can serve as a passable defensive option at third base. Eduardo Escobar and Danny Santana made the club as reserves, but Santana hasn’t hit since his BABIP-fueled rookie season, and his lack of minor league options could jeopardize his 40-man spot at some point in 2017. At some point, Park or Kennys Vargas will be settled upon as the long-term option at designated hitter, but Robbie Grossman has held down the fort quite nicely in that regard early in 2017.

Deal of Note

Entering the offseason, few would’ve projected Jason Castro to receive the most significant contract of any catcher this winter. The 29-year-old is a former first-round pick and did have an All-Star 2013 campaign in which he batted .276/.350/.485 with 18 home runs in 491 plate appearances. But, he followed up that excellent season with a collective .215/.291/.369 batting line from 2014-16 and hit just .210/.307/.377 in his platform year before free agency.

Jason Castro | Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The market for Castro was robust from the start, though, with multiple clubs showing interest. The Twins, Rays and Braves led the charge in pursuing Castro, though he was said to have multi-year offers from at least four teams in addition to multiple three-year offers before signing with Minnesota. Compare that to the market of Matt Wieters — a considerably more accomplished offensive player — and the Castro contract becomes a readily apparent sign of a paradigm shift in the valuation of catchers throughout the league.

Catcher defense is being valued at an all-time high, with a particular emphasis on pitch-framing coming into focus. Wieters’ pitch-framing marks have been below average in recent years, as have those of Welington Castillo — another catcher whose bat is superior to that of Castro but was surprisingly non-tendered. Castillo had to settle for a guaranteed two years at a lesser rate than Castro, further exemplifying that teams are increasingly concerned with what catchers do behind the plate than what they can do at the plate.

While the addition of Castro isn’t going to turn the Twins’ pitching staff from a bottom-of-the-league unit to a premium collection of arms, there’s also an argument to be made that signing a catcher with this skill-set was the best way for Minnesota to overhaul its staff in one fell swoop. Framing numbers, of course, are an inexact science, but for the sake of comparison, Baseball Prospectus rated Suzuki 6.8 runs below average in terms of framing last year, while Castro was among the game’s best at 16.3 runs above average.

Overview

As has been the case in recent years, the Twins are relying on some questionable veteran arms in the rotation and a slew of talented-but-unproven position players to fill out the lineup. Thus far, the Twins have trotted out an everyday lineup that features five players — Buxton, Sano, Rosario, Kepler and Polanco — that were regarded as top 100 prospects within the past two years. There’s plenty of upside in this bunch, but it’s not realistic to expect that each of that quintet will prove to be an average regular or better.

It’s true that in any given season, any club could contend with enough breaks (see: the 2015 Twins). This year’s version of the Twins got off to a hot start, but it still seems likely that 2017 will be more about determining which members of the team’s most recent wave of top prospects can live up to the hype.

If and when they fall out of the race in the American League Central, the Twins will have a handful of chips to cash in and further add to the youth movement, including Dozier, Ervin Santana, Kintzler, Belisle and any of Santiago, Hughes and Gibson depending on health and performance. The new front office didn’t act as a definitive seller this winter, though, suggesting that Falvey, Levine & Co. at least feel it’s possible that enough of the young talent already in the system can be vital cogs in the next competitive Twins team.

Let’s see what MLBTR readers thought about Minnesota’s offseason (link to poll for Trade Rumors app users)…

Take Our Poll
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The Dodgers have placed center fielder Joc Pederson on the 10-day DL, per a club announcement. He’ll be replaced on the active roster by outfielder Brett Eibner.

Pederson, who just turned 25, has a groin injury. It doesn’t seem likely to keep him out for a lengthy stretch, but the Dodgers evidently felt it was worth getting out ahead of with a DL placement. He’ll look to pick up his hitting a bit upon his return, after posting a tepid .220/.322/.340 mark through his first 18 games of the season.

Notably, too, Los Angeles is set to bring up talented young starter Julio Urias for his 2017 debut, per J.P. Hoornstra of the Southern California News Group (Twitter link). The 20-year-old had opened the year at Triple-A as part of an effort to control his innings.

Urias has unsurprisingly dominated at the highest level of the minors, though he has also permitted nine walks in his 14 frames. Still, he has nothing left to prove there; the young southpaw already turned in 77 innings of 3.39 ERA ball in the majors last season.

It seems that Urias will take the ball Thursday, meaning that righty Kenta Maeda will be bumped from his next scheduled start. The 29-year-old has been hit hard in the early going, with 24 hits and seven long balls recorded against him through 19 innings — though he has also maintained his excellent strikeout (9.0 K/9) and walk (2.4 BB/9) rates.

It’s not yet clear just what the plan is with regards to Maeda — or, for that matter, Urias, who could stay in the majors or head back to Albuquerque. How things shake out could also depend in part upon the status of Rich Hill, who is still on the DL with a troublesome blister.

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The 2017 debut of “Knocking Down The Door” is here!

Over the next four months, I will be identifying Minor Leaguers who I believe are putting themselves in position to earn a big league call-up in the near future. In some cases, they get the call before the article is even published. In many others, they end up staying in the Minors for one reason or another and end up on my All-Snub team.

Here’s a look at six Minor Leaguers who are currently “Knocking Down The Door” to the Major Leagues.

Nick Delmonico, 3B/1B, Chicago White Sox (Triple-A Charlotte)

In what was a heated spring competition to become the team’s designated hitter versus right-handed starting pitching, the White Sox went with the known commodity, former Phillie Cody Asche, over fellow lefty batters Delmonico and Danny Hayes. But with Asche’s subpar big league track record—he posted a .669 OPS in 371 games before the Phillies non-tendered him this past offseason—he wasn’t going to enter the season with much of a leash. And after a 2-for-35 start with the White Sox, his opportunity could be coming to and end.

Delmonico, a former 6th round draft pick of the Orioles who was traded to the Brewers in 2013 and released prior to the 2015 season, resurrected his career with a breakout 2016 season with the White Sox (.837 OPS, 17 HR, 30 2B between Double-A and Triple-A). While he fell short of making the 2017 Opening Day roster despite an impressive spring, he has continued to make noise down in Triple-A, where he’s slashing .328/.397/.492 after a 10-for-18 week in which he walked twice and struck out just one time. The 24-year-old will get a shot at some point in 2017 and it wouldn’t be a surprise if it happened before the end of April.

White Sox Depth Chart

 

Jonathan Dziedzic, SP, Kansas City Royals (Triple-A Omaha)

Barring injuries, cracking a spot in the Royals’ rotation will be no easy task in 2017. Even No. 5 starter Nathan Karns, who has a career 4.53 ERA and a Minor League option remaining, should have enough job security to get him through a few bad starts. But pitching well out of the Triple-A rotation, as the lefty Dziedzic has done through four starts, will not go unnoticed.

With a 1.09 ERA, two walks and 23 strikeouts in 24.2 innings pitched, the 26-year-old Dziedzic is putting himself in position to be next in line for a big league rotation spot. Whether that happens in the near future could depend on Karns, who was knocked around in his last start (4.2 IP, 6 ER, 4 HR). The Royals could also decide that Karns is a better fit out of the bullpen, an idea that has been floated around occasionally over the past few years as he’s struggled with consistency during stints with the Rays and Mariners, which would open the door for a deserving candidate like Dziedzic.

Royals Depth Chart

 

Dinelson Lamet, SP, San Diego Padres (Triple-A El Paso)

After the Padres re-signed Clayton Richard this past offseason and filled out their rotation with three other veteran starters, the big league ETA for rookies like Lamet and Walker Lockett was seemingly pushed back to at least the 2nd half of 2017. But with the aforementioned veterans each pitching well early on and teams with playoff aspirations already in need of rotation help—the Braves traded Jhoulys Chacin to the Angels after five starts in 2016—there’s a decent chance that a rotation opening will be created by an early-season trade.

Allowing only one run over his first three starts, including a 13-strikeout performance on April 20th, will also help Lamet’s cause as he battles Lockett in a race to the Padres’ rotation. After throwing 150 innings between High-A, Double-A and Triple-A in 2016, the 24-year-old Lamet should be ready to take on 20+ starts in the Majors this season.

Padres Depth Chart

 

Ketel Marte, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks (Triple-A Reno) 

Last offseason’s five-player trade between Arizona and Seattle has swung heavily in the Mariners’ favor early on. Surprisingly, that doesn’t have much to do with the players who were considered to be the key components of the deal.

Mar 7, 2017; Salt River Pima-Maricopa, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Ketel Marte (4) hits a three run homerun against the Oakland Athletics in the first inning during a spring training game at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Taijuan Walker has been decent in his four starts for the Diamondbacks, while Jean Segura landed on the disabled list after 35 plate appearances for the Mariners. It’s outfielder Mitch Haniger, acquired with Segura and lefty reliever Zac Curtis, who is emerging as an MLB star (1.020 OPS through his first 20 games) and, therefore, making the trade seem a bit lopsided.

The Diamondbacks’ hopes of balancing things out some could ride on Marte, the 23-year-old shortstop who failed to live up to big expectations with the Mariners in 2016. While the versatile Chris Owings and light-hitting defensive whiz Nick Ahmed keep the spot warm in the big leagues, Marte is doing all he can to make his way back to the Majors. In the midst of an 11-game hitting streak—he’s had at least one hit in 16 of 17 games—the switch-hitter is slashing .419/456/.459 with three stolen bases, five walks and five strikeouts.

Diamondbacks Depth Chart

 

Nick Pivetta, SP, Philadelphia Phillies (Triple-A Lehigh Valley)

There’s no guarantee that Pivetta will be joining the Phillies on Wednesday to replace the injured Aaron Nola, but he is in line to pitch—his last start with Lehigh Valley came on April 20th—he’s already on the 40-man roster and he’s been one of the most dominant pitchers in the Minor Leagues in 2017. We’ll have to call this pick my “uncontested layup” of the week.

Acquired in the July 2015 deal that sent Jonathan Papelbon to the Nationals, the 24-year-old Pivetta has separated himself early on from a talented group of Triple-A rotation-mates with three terrific starts, the most recent being a six-inning, 11-strikeout performance.

Phillies Depth Chart

 

Dwight Smith Jr., OF, Toronto Blue Jays (Triple-A Buffalo)

The Blue Jays might not have a prospect capable of jump-starting their struggling offense at this point, but that doesn’t mean help isn’t on the way. Smith, the 53rd overall pick in the 2011 draft, has quietly made his way to Triple-A without putting up huge numbers or attracting much attention. But now that he’s one level away from the Majors, the left-handed hitting Smith is heating up at what could be just the right time.

Through his first 15 games, the 24-year-old has slashed .333/.403/.537 with three homers, three stolen bases, seven walks and nine strikeouts. He reached base in 12 of his 23 plate appearances last week while striking out only twice. Personally, I hope he gets the call on May 1st, which would be the 28th anniversary of his father’s MLB debut with the Cubs. Dwight Smith Sr. finished 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting in 1989.

Blue Jays Depth Chart


“Knocking Down the Door” is a weekly feature that identifies minor leaguers who are making a case for a big league promotion.

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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The Giants will promote top infield prospect Christian Arroyo, according to Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area (via Twitter). Also joining the MLB roster is veteran outfielder Drew Stubbs, per John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter link).

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As expected, the Diamondbacks have moved righty Shelby Miller to the 10-day with forearm tightness, per a club announcement. He was forced out of his start yesterday with an apparent injury, prompting obvious concern from within the organization.

For the time being, reliever Silvino Bracho will take the open roster spot. It’s not immediately clear how the club will fill the gap in its rotation, though it seems reasonable to think that righty Archie Bradley could get a shot. The former top prospect has thrived thus far in a bullpen role.

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Right-handed reliever Steve Delabar, who signed a minor league deal with the Indians this winter, has been suspended 80 games after testing positive for the banned substance Ostarine, the league announced Monday. Delabar hasn’t been active with the club in Triple-A due to the pending suspension, the Indians added in their own announcement.

The 33-year-old Delabar has fallen off the radar somewhat in recent years, but he’s a veteran of six Major League seasons, most recently tossing eight innings with the Reds in 2016. Delabar was an All-Star with the Blue Jays back in 2013 and served as a very effective member of Toronto’s relief corps from 2012-13 before declining in 2014-15. (Of anecdotal note, MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince reminds, on Twitter, that the Jays initially acquired Delabar from the Mariners by trading a fairly promising young outfielder by the name of Eric Thames to Seattle.)

Given the depth of Cleveland’s bullpen, it didn’t seem especially likely that Delabar would resurface on their big league roster in the near future, though a strong performance and/or injuries at the Major League level could certainly have created an opportunity. In 194 2/3 Major League innings, Delabar has a 4.07 ERA with 11.2 K/9, 4.7 BB/9 and a 36.6 percent ground-ball rate.

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The Phillies announced today that righty Aaron Nola has been placed on the 10-day DL due to a strained lower back. “After receiving treatment over the last few days, the symptoms improved, but he still felt some tightness during his side session yesterday,” GM Matt Klentak said in a press release. “Our hope and expectation is that this will not be a lengthy DL placement and that Aaron will miss only one or two starts.” Nola joins right-hander Buchholz on the disabled list, thus creating a temporary avenue for another of the Phillies’ upper-level arms to get a look in the Majors. Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer and MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki both suggest that right-hander Nick Pivetta (originally acquired in exchange for Jonathan Papelbon) could be the preferred option to start in Nola’s place (Twitter links).

More from the NL East…

  • Earlier today, the Braves traded veteran reliever David Hernandez, who was with the team’s Triple-A affiliate, to the Angels in exchange for a player to be named later or cash. David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution adds a bit of context, tweeting that while Hernandez posted solid numbers in Gwinnett, he did not impress the club to the extent that fellow veteran Jason Motte has to this point while pitching in Triple-A. MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, meanwhile, tweets that Hernandez had a May 1 opt-out, so Atlanta decided to move him while it was still possible to get a marginal return. Notably, O’Brien suggests that Motte could soon get a look in Atlanta’s Major League ’pen.
  • Nationals manager Dusty Baker confirmed that the team will give Jacob Turner a spot start tonight while Stephen Strasburg is out on paternity leave, as Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post writes. While Turner’s track record in the Majors isn’t impressive, Baker suggested that the team wasn’t comfortable bringing someone up to make their first Major League start at Coors Field. “We thought about other guys, but we didn’t really want their first start in the big leagues to be in Colorado,” Baker said of that potentially daunting task. “He has big league experience and Stras is having a second child. If not, it would’ve been Stras out there.”

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