The Minnesota Twins, compared to the Yankees, or Dodgers, or Red Sox, are a small market team.
And yet, they still grabbed a 38 home-run slugger when MLB Network's Jon Morosi announced the team signed first baseman Logan Morrison to a one-year, $6.5m contract.
Could they have had the assets to make the move for Giancarlo Stanton? Maybe, but they are a team predicated on youth while also lacking the financial freedom that has been the MO for the Yankees this past decade. That same financial restraint took them out of the JD Martinez running as soon as it started, as well as the Eric Hosmer sweepstakes.
But the signing of Morrison proves to be a far cheaper option with the ability to provide a drastic improvement in the lineup. His 38 home runs were fifth-most among American League sluggers and paired with Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, who trailed slightly behind with 34, and growing threat Miguel Sano, the Twins may finally have the heart-of-the-lineup trifecta they've been missing for the past five years.
Does this put the Twins on the same level as the Yankees and Red Sox? Not unless Mauer reverts to his MVP-days and Dozier breaks the 40-homer plateau again. But the Twins signing Morrison puts them a little closer to the Cleveland Indians, who have already been written as the favorites to win the American League Central Division.
A different hitter
To say 2017 was a career-year for Morrison would be an understatement. Prior to last season, Morrison saw his home run total peak at a mere 23, back when he was a 23-year-old playing in his second season with the then-Florida Marlins. Several injuries undoubtedly contributed to that as the next three years saw him play in less than 100 games and never hit more than 11 home runs in a season.
The Logan Morrison of 2017, however, was a far different hitter. Morrison was hitting the ball harder and higher than before. Courtesy of FanGraphs, his 46.2% fly ball rate was the highest of his career, a sign of an improved launch angle which directly correlates with an increase in home run total. 22.5% of the fly balls Morrison was hitting were resulting in home runs, another personal best for him at the Major League level. 2017 also saw him be more selective at the plate as his percentage of swings at pitches outside the strike zone (27.7%) was the lowest it had been in the last four years.
There is one thing Morrison will have to take into account in Minnesota: the cold. His career, which has been based in the more temperate climates of South Florida and Seattle, has never faced the cold of Minnesota, where the August home runs turn into April fly outs. However, the power alleys in Target Field are more of a presence than they were in Tampa's Tropicana Field, which may see an increase in doubles even if it means a decrease from the 38 home runs a year before.
The veteran plug
The Twins are a young team. Buoyed by a 23-year-old centerfielder in Byron Buxton, a 24-year-old third baseman in Miguel Sano, and a 24-year-old right fielder in Max Kepler, the 2017 Twins outperformed the low expectations that were placed on them. Now, the bar has been raised as each of these players are a year older and have had a taste of meaningful games down the September stretch.
Minnesota incumbent Joe Mauer will be there to help guide the ship. Dozier will be too, but the addition of Morrison provides insurance in several key areas along the roster. His propensity for the long-ball will see him take control of the designated hitter spot in the lineup as Mauer maintains his hold on first-base. Morrison, however, provides a more experienced backup option in the event if Mauer goes down with an injury at any point during the season.
He could also prove all the more valuable if budding star Miguel Sano's situation becomes more complicated. His 2017 season, which saw Sano slug 28 home runs and 77 RBI despite playing in only 114 games due to injury, was marred by the offseason sexual assault allegations that were brought against him. If Sano proves he is not conditioned enough after his injury, or if the MLB levies a suspension, Morrison could help negate the offensive void left in Sano's absence.
A club-friendly option
Morrison proves to be a low risk, high reward signing for the Twins. The one-year contract at $6.5m is neither a heavy financial investment nor a contractual bind between the Twins and the 30-year-old. The vesting club option, which would allow the Twins to keep his services for an additional year, can be exercised depending on Morrison's production through the 2018 season. If he reaches 600 plate appearances, it vests automatically.
Plus, if the option vests, Morrison's contract will be worth over $16m for his two years of service. It's a win-win for both sides: the Twins get the offensive production in an already budding lineup, and Morrison gets his payday.
Morrison could also be a sign at the direction in which the Twins want to head. If he proves to be a reliable bat on a contending team, it may spell the end of Joe Mauer's tenure in his home state. Mauer, whose eight-year, $184m contract expires at the end of 2018, turns 35 in April. 2017 proved to be a renaissance year for the catcher-turned-first-baseman after hitting .305 but it's safe to say his best years are behind him and it will be important to see his level of production in 2018.
The Twins will contend if...
They acquire an additional starting pitcher. Their 4.59 team ERA was the 12th highest in baseball, but there are still several talented arms left in the free agent market. Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, and Jake Arrieta would all provide major upgrades to the Twins' rotation. Is Minnesota willing to shell out some money for that upgrade?
The Twins will also contend if their young talent continues to develop. That means Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, and Max Kepler will have to shoulder a lot more responsibility this time around. While they are still considered the underdogs of the AL Central, it is expected of them to contend for a Wild Card spot like last year.
One thing is for certain: there is light at the end of the tunnel. Their seven-year postseason drought ended with a Wild Card appearance, but now their next goal is to make it to a postseason series. That reality seems sooner rather than later, but more work needs to be done.