SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — The Twins may have to be more creative to fulfill their offseason wish list considering their reduced payroll for next season, but there are areas of the roster they plan to upgrade.
Trades could be an early focus to create some additional space in their budget before turning to the free agent market, one agent predicted, but here are three positions the Twins will look for external help:
Center field: Byron Buxton hasn't played center in an MLB game since August 2022 and Michael A. Taylor is a free agent, so it's a positional question mark. Austin Martin, who is expected to be added to the 40-man roster next week, was a part-time center fielder at Class AAA and Willi Castro can play there in a pinch, but there isn't a natural incumbent.
The Twins have shown at least preliminary interest in free agent Kevin Kiermaier, a 2023 Gold Glove winner, and Harrison Bader is another free agent. They found Taylor through the trade market last winter.
First base: Alex Kirilloff underwent shoulder surgery in October, but it was less invasive than the Twins initially feared, so he should be OK for spring training. Edouard Julien could spend more time at first base, particularly if Jorge Polanco returns, and recent 40-man roster addition Yunior Severino, a switch hitter, profiles as a below-average defender at first base.
Jose Miranda, who had his 2023 season derailed by a shoulder injury, is another internal option at first base. Joey Gallo and Donovan Solano, both free agents, combined to start 100 games at first base this year.
"With AK and with potential external additions, it'll probably be an area we do spend some time this offseason from free agent or trade perspective," said Derek Falvey, president of baseball operations.
Starting pitcher: The Twins have a base of five starting pitchers — Pablo López, Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober, Chris Paddack and Louie Varland — which puts them in an OK spot at the beginning of the offseason, but depth is important. It's rare to survive a season without using eight or nine starters. The Twins don't have much proven depth behind the initial five with prospect David Festa likely to begin the year in Class AAA.
Starting pitching is in high demand this winter, and teams that attempted to trade for starters with multiple years of team control at the trade deadline were stunned at the price tags. Falvey didn't commit to adding a starting pitcher that could be considered a one-for-one replacement for free agent Sonny Gray.
"We do feel we walk into this offseason with maybe a better overall pitching group than we've walked into any of our recent offseasons," Falvey said.
Buxton, who underwent knee surgery shortly after the season ended, remains in the recovery stage before progressing into running. Buxton and the Twins remain hopeful he will be prepared to play center field in 2024.
"Last year we had a different plan," Falvey said. "We walked into the season focusing on what it could look like to DH. Our hope is we build his whole winter with center field in mind as we get to camp next year."
Boras proposes pitch clock adjustment
Agent Scott Boras, speaking to reporters Wednesday from the General Managers Meetings, proposed a tweak to the pitch clock that he thinks would benefit starting pitchers.
Pitchers currently receive 15 seconds between pitches with the bases empty and 20 seconds when there is a runner on base.
"We have to make concessions for stress and the reserve of our most valued starting pitchers," Boras said. "We need to propose when you throw three innings, instead of 15 seconds between pitches, you're going to have 18 seconds from [innings] three to six. Once you get to six innings, then you're going to have 20 seconds in between pitches, so that these pitchers can be durable, receive the needed rest."
There were only five pitchers who reached 200 innings last season and 19 pitchers who surpassed 185 innings. In 2018, there were 13 starters who completed 200 innings and 25 who were above 185.