Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine have made sweeping changes since joining the organization following the 2016 season.
They have replaced scouting and player development personnel; overhauled strength and conditioning staffs; revamped strategies from the majors through the minors; built up a research and development department; and have shaken up the major league coaching staff — with their most notable move coming in October, when they replaced manager Paul Molitor with newbie Rocco Baldelli.
However, there’s one area the dynamic duo have not revised with the same vigor — the major league roster. So, as the pair enter their third offseason in charge, is it the right time to make significant roster moves?
The Twins are several players away from catching Cleveland in the AL Central and have payroll flexibility — they have $24.5 million committed to their own players next season, plus $5.95 million they owe from the Phil Hughes trade to San Diego — to add talent.
Or will the priority be to let Baldelli work his magic with the players who already are here?
The Twins still believe there’s a developing young core, but they will look to strengthen the areas around that core as the hot stove league heats up. The general managers meetings take place next week in Carlsbad, Calif., where the groundwork for trades and free-agent signings is often laid. Then the winter meetings take place Dec. 9-12 in Las Vegas, where deals could be culminated.
“I always view free agency as a supplement to the core of your team,” Falvey said. “If you look at the playoff teams and the teams that have won, they have built around a key core. We’ve talked a lot about our group, and some of the setbacks that we’ve experienced with that collection of players. We still believe that group has a chance to impact us the way it did down the stretch in 2017.”
Still, when a team has around $30 million in commitments one year after making a run at starting pitcher Yu Darvish — they offered a five-year deal of at least $100 million — it would appear the Twins could take another big swing at free agency.
“We know that free agency can be a risky place to spend a lot of time,” Falvey cautioned. “We just want to make sure we are thoughtful about finding a right fit for our roster.”
Baldelli has focused on contacting players and learning about the farm system while allowing the front office to do its thing.
“I’m using this period of time to learn as much as I can about all aspects,” Baldelli said during a radio interview on KFAN on Wednesday. “The more I learn about the roster and players and the more we talk within the organization about them as opposed to looking outside the organization, I think the best thing to do is to look at the good, young, talented players we have and ask questions about what are the best things we can do to help these guys.”
Once he completes his research, he will find the club has a potential hole at first base if Joe Mauer retires, no second baseman (perhaps free agent Jed Lowrie?) and an offense in need of a bat (Michael Brantley?). Falvey looks at the infield and see flexibility with moves.
“We’re going to remain open-minded to that,” Falvey said. “If we were to find a perfect fit at third base, would that open up a different place where Miguel [Sano] could play?
“I would anticipate position players being probably more of the focus in the early going, I would say.”
Sano and Byron Buxton, who underperformed and spent time on the disabled list last season, are major unanswered questions. In fact, some in the organization feel it can’t make significant additions this offseason because they need to figure out if the former top prospects can produce the goods in 2019. If they don’t, they might have to re-examine their long-term plan.
“That’s a fair way of looking at it for a question,” Falvey said. “As we look at this group, we certainly expect a lot of [them] and Eddie [Rosario] and Max [Kepler] and Jorge [Polanco]. We need that group to collectively take steps forward. It doesn’t mean we can’t invest now and betting on these guys for the future.
“We want to set it up to be in a good position. That may mean setting ourselves up for a good position on Opening Day. That may mean setting up to leave us some flexibility at the deadline and see where we could be. All of those will factor in.”
The Twins also could swing a deal to fill holes. Since Falvey and Levine arrived, they have added minor league talent through trades. The organization has an above-average minor league system now, and the club could package anyone not named outfielder Alex Kirilloff, shortstop Royce Lewis or righthander Brusdar Graterol in a deal.
“I believe we are set up pretty well for that, in the event we do have those conversations,” Falvey said. “At this stage, most people are focused on the external free agents acquisitions more than trades. That will pick up as you get closer, some at the GM meetings, but certainly at the winter meetings.”