One of the subtexts of this offseason is the Twins’ spacious payroll when 2019 rolls around. It’s one of the reasons that so many pundits think the Twins have a reasonable chance at signing one of the premier free agent starters on the market. I’ve never maintained such optimism. What if Yu Darvish really doesn’t want to come to Minnesota? What if the Twins aren’t interested in Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn or Jake Arrieta? What do the Twins do then?
This season, the NHL expanded into Las Vegas, and the Golden Knights were asked to put together a roster with a payroll that at least met the salary minimums the NHL requires. They used their available cash not to add a bunch of veteran stars, but leveraged it to acquire prospects and draft picks. If the Twins don’t end up with one of those headlining stars, why couldn’t they use their slush fund to help build for the present and the future, much the same as the Golden Knights?
The Twins can’t add draft picks, of course, but how could they go out and add some prospects? They can take advantage of teams with large contracts, and teams trying to offload them in order to acquire a new free agent could come calling to the Twins. Of course, if the teams trying to get rid of these contracts don’t want them, why would Minnesota? It wouldn’t take a whole lot to be clever enough to parlay this into a long and short term benefit.
Let’s take a look at one possibility in particular. We’ve focused almost exclusively on the pitching market, but there hasn’t been a whole lot of movement with the top offensive names, either. JD Martinez, formerly of the Tigers and Diamondbacks, is a top target, almost exclusively for the Boston Red Sox, but Boston has some desire to offload some salary in order to get there. One of the redundant players they would have is designated hitter Hanley Ramirez.
Ramirez, even after a down year in 2017, was very good in 2016 and has the potential to bounce back. Even if he didn’t come back all the way, he would have the ceiling of a much better player than Kennys Vargas or Robbie Grossman at the plate. More importantly, he would only be under contract for one more year, and he wouldn’t be a long term albatross.
So how would a trade like this work? Well, the return for the Twins would depend on how much the Twins would be willing to pay of Ramirez’s contract. The Twins do have a few top pitching prospects out there. According to MLB Pipeline, three of their top 5 prospects are pitchers, including Jay Groome, Tanner Houck and Alex Scherff. Meanwhile, they don’t seem to have any outfield depth in the minors.
Obviously, this isn’t perfect, but what would kind of response would a Ramirez + Groome for Alex Kirilloff trade get? Or any combination of those prospects? The Twins would possibly get better in 2018 (and 2019, if they were crazy enough to pick up Ramirez’s option) but they would also be stronger in the future, with greater pitching depth ready to move into the majors.
I’m not espousing this trade or something using this skeleton specifically, but I am encouraging the idea of using Minnesota’s payroll space in creative ways this year and in 2019.