Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine have been aggressive this offseason in trying to improve a ballclub that won 78 games last year. There is no question they have made a bigger investment in getting quality players into the organization for first-year manager Rocco Baldelli than they did last year for Paul Molitor, who was fired at the end of the season.
The rumors are that Molitor, who is under contract for two more seasons, has not agreed to a new role with the club and Falvey and Levine have not made an offer to keep him working for the organization.
But on the diamond, it appears the free agents signed this offseason will produced better results than the ones signed before last year.
Of the eight free agents the Twins signed last season, only Addison Reed is back. Reed was signed for $16.75 million over two seasons, then had the worst year of his career with a 1-6 record and 4.50 ERA over 56 innings with only 44 strikeouts.
Michael Pineda was technically signed last year, but the Twins front office knew they were getting a pitcher who had little chance of playing in 2018 after Tommy John surgery. Pineda will make $8 million this season.
The other free-agent signings last season were shortstop Erick Aybar, relievers Zach Duke and Fernando Rodney, starting pitchers Lance Lynn and Anibal Sanchez and first baseman Logan Morrison. Most of them were released or traded by midseason.
Aybar didn’t appear in any games for the Twins, opting out of his contract March 23. Duke was traded to the Mariners on July 30 and signed with Cincinnati on Feb. 11.
Rodney had a 3.09 ERA and recorded 25 saves before being traded Aug. 9 to the Athletics, who signed him to a one-year, $5.25 million deal this offseason.
Lynn was terrible here with a 7-8 record and 5.10 ERA in 20 starts before being traded to the Yankees on July 30. He signed a three-year, $30 million deal this offseason with the Rangers.
Sanchez was released in spring training on March 11 and signed with the Braves, where he posted a 7-6 record and 2.83 ERA with 135 strikeouts in 136⅔ innings. Sanchez signed a two-year, $19 million deal with the Nationals this offseason.
Morrison, who hit .186 with 15 homers and 39 RBI in 95 games, remains a free agent.
Yes, the Twins made an effort last season with their free agents, but none of them performed well besides Rodney. And when you compare them with the talent they have brought in this year, you’d have to say this new group has more potential to make the club better in 2019.
Home run potential
Last season, the Twins finished sixth in the AL with 738 runs scored. According to FanGraphs.com, the Twins signed two of the top 11 offensive free agents available in Nelson Cruz and Marwin Gonzalez.
Cruz — who signed a one-year, $14.3 million deal — has hit 203 home runs over the past five seasons. That’s the most in all of baseball, ahead of MVP-caliber players such as the Yankees’ Giancarlo Stanton and the Angels’ Mike Trout.
Gonzalez, who was signed last week to a two-year deal worth $21 million, has hit .268 over the past three seasons while averaging 17 homers, 28 doubles, 70 RBI and 61 runs scored and proving to be one of the most versatile defensive players in baseball.
The outpouring of praise for Gonzalez from the Astros locker room after he signed with the Twins showed how important he was to their World Series victory in 2017.
On top of that, the Twins signed 27-year-old second baseman Jonathan Schoop, an All-Star in 2017, to a $7.5 million deal.
Even the Twins’ more affordable additions have a chance to be big producers. First baseman Lucas Duda (one year, $1.75 million if he makes the team) has hit 108 home runs since 2014. The only Twins player to hit that many home runs in that stretch is former second baseman Brian Dozier, who hit 148.
The Twins’ free agents after this season are Reed, Pineda, Schoop, catcher Jason Castro and starting pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Kyle Gibson, but those are the only players not under team control going forward.
Thielen not a holdout
The Vikings have dealt with their fair share of contract demands, but according to Blake Baratz, the agent for wide receiver Adam Thielen, they don’t have to worry about that with the Detroit Lakes, Minn., native.
Thielen inked a four-year, $19.2 million deal in 2017, then produced two of the best receiving seasons in Vikings history: 91 catches for 1,276 yards and four touchdowns in 2017 and 113 catches for 1,373 yards and nine TDs last season. Many have speculated he’d want a new deal more in line with teammate Stefon Diggs, who got a five-year, $72 million deal.
But Baratz told ESPN there’s no question Thielen will play out whatever contract he has while he negotiates with the Vikings.
“Adam’s not that type of person,” Baratz said. “I would never condone a player to hold out or be disruptive if it wasn’t for a very valid reason, and a valid reason, to me, is both sides working in good faith to come to a conclusion that makes sense for everybody.”
• The Bears, like the Vikings, are short on salary-cap space, so they can’t add any major players without maneuvering existing personnel. The Bears currently rank 29th with $7.3 million in salary-cap space; the Vikings rank 30th with $7.2 million.
• One landing spot for former Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater could be Jacksonville, where they plan to release Blake Bortles and have no quarterback on the roster.
• The Gophers men’s hockey team has a commitment from Edina forward Mason Nevers. His father, Tom Nevers, was one of the greatest athletes in Minnesota history, drafted in the first round in baseball by the Astros and in hockey by the Penguins. Mason’s grandfather, Gordy Nevers, was a minor league pitcher, and his grandmother, Mary Nevers, was a longtime receptionist for the Vikings. … Mason’s power-play goal helped Edina beat Benilde-St. Margaret’s 5-1 on Wednesday to win the Class 2A, Section 6 title and advance to the state tournament.
• Eduardo Escobar, who the Twins traded July 27 to Arizona, where he hit .268 with eight home runs and 11 doubles in 54 games, signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Diamondbacks. He likely will be their starting shortstop.
• The Gophers have four quarterbacks on campus for this season, but they continue to recruit the position by bringing in Athan Kaliakmanis of Antioch, Ill., who also has offers from Iowa and Iowa State.