SAN DIEGO — Major League Baseball's annual winter meetings began on Monday with the Twins scheming up different ways to build their roster for next season.
That includes chasing one of the top free agents on the market.
Aaron Judge is expected to land a nine-figure deal with someone but, no, he's not the one.
Shortstop Carlos Correa did play for the Twins last season and hit .291 with 22 home runs, 64 RBI and a 5.4 WAR. While he opted out of the three-year, $105.3 million deal after one year, he's open to returning.
Correa was considered the big dog of a four-player group of talented free-agent shortstops — a list now down to Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson after Trea Turner agreed to sign with Philadelphia for 11 years and $300 million. The Twins have floated multiple contract structures in an attempt to retain Correa, with higher annual average values for fewer years and lower AAV's for longer years. The deals range from six to 10 years.
And the Twins' pursuit of Correa is not dead. They met with Correa and his agent, Scott Boras, in person on Saturday in the Los Angeles area.
"We've positioned ourselves well to be one of the highest priority options for him," manager Rocco Baldelli told reporters Monday. "We just have to let this thing play out.
"You're not necessarily selling — you're getting feedback. ... It's a pretty good back and forth, I think both sides value what the other side is talking about in those conversations."
The Twins aren't contenders without Correa, who made just as much of an impact in the clubhouse as on the field. Byron Buxton hasn't typically focused much on statistical analysis and prefers to go to the plate and react to the ball, but he became more receptive as Correa walked him through some key numbers. Correa plays premium defense as well. And there are league officials who believe there's still 40-homer potential in his bat.
"He's a guy who has dedicated his life to winning games," Baldelli said. "Not everybody in the big leagues does that. Some very great players don't. … You need guys like that. He exhibits that every day."
This is going to be fascinating. Correa is unlikely to leave many dollars on the table. So the Twins not only will have to offer the best deal — or really close to it — they also must prove to Correa that they will contend in 2023. That might be the reason they are showing interest in lefthander Carlos Rodon, who was 14-8 with a 2.68 ERA last season for San Francisco. He was scheduled to make $22.5 million in 2023 but opted out of his deal and stands to earn at least $25 million a season over the next several years.
The Twins would love to have a quality lefthander in their rotation. But Rodon won't come cheap, especially after Justin Verlander got $86 million over two years from the Mets and Jacob deGrom landed a five-year, $185 million deal with Texas.
The Twins Opening Day payroll was about $135 million last season. Keeping Correa and landing Rodon would propel that to more than $150 million. Some with the Twins see the possibility of trading a starter such as Sonny Gray, who's scheduled to make $12 million next season, to soften the payroll blow.
Can they pull this off? Will the Twins spend more aggressively with Joe Pohlad, Jim's nephew, assuming more day-to-day control of the club? Time, and actions, will tell.
If the Twins don't land Correa and can't secure a fallback option like Bogaerts, they could take a step back in 2023 and wait for former No. 1 overall pick Royce Lewis to recover from knee surgery and take over shortstop at some point. They could sit on the money they were willing to spend on Correa and Rodon and use time for young starters like Joe Ryan, Josh Winder and Bailey Ober to gain more experience.
But they believe a healthier team can challenge Cleveland in the American League Central. And the White Sox will be looking to replace a production and leadership void with Jose Abreu's move to Houston.
Keep in mind that President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine typically don't stand pat. They either add talent or regroup. That's why other Twins players could be on the move as well.
Right fielder Max Kepler hit .227 with nine homers and 43 RBI last season. Over the past three seasons, he's batted .220 with a .706 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. But the Twins could move him because some teams see value in him as a defensive player.
And the Twins could entertain offers for Luis Arraez, who has turned down a multiyear contract offer in the past to bet on himself. Arraez reported to camp in the best shape of his career and responded with an All-Star Game selection and batting title, but the Twins could include him in a deal for a front-of-the-rotation starter, if such a pitcher is available.
What happens this week in San Diego at the winter meetings could determine which path the Twins take next summer.