The Twins have received interest from other clubs in starting pitchers Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda, reports Dan Hayes of the Athletic. It’s not clear how open Minnesota is to moving either player, although it stands to reason they’d at least gauge the market and see if another club were willing to bowl them over with an offer.
It’s unsurprising other teams would eye the pair of Minnesota righties, both of whom have established track records as productive MLB starters. Gray would be the more appealing of the duo, as Maeda didn’t pitch in 2022 recovering from Tommy John surgery he underwent in September ’21. Gray dealt with a few health issues himself, missing time with a pair of strains in his right hamstring and a pectoral strain. Around the trio of injured list stints, the righty pitched well, though.
Acquired from the Reds in Spring Training, Gray made 24 starts during his first season in Minnesota. He posted a 3.08 ERA across 119 2/3 innings, fanning an above-average 24% of opponents against an average 7.4% walk rate. Gray’s 44.5% ground-ball percentage was a personal low, but it was still a bit better than par. At his best, the two-time All-Star generates a rare combination of whiffs and grounders. He hasn’t reached 30 starts in either of the past two seasons, but Gray’s an upper mid-rotation caliber arm when he’s healthy.
At year’s end, Minnesota made the easy call to exercise a $12.5MM option on his services. He’s slated to return to the Twin Cities for what’ll be his age-33 campaign before hitting the open market for the first time.
Maeda is also down to his final year under contract, with his salary to be determined by his health. The righty is headed into the final season of the eight-year deal he initially inked with the Dodgers coming off from Japan. That deal was layered with innings-based incentives, as the Dodgers expressed concerns about Maeda’s medical evaluation at the time.
The 34-year-old is due a $3MM base salary, and he’ll lock in a $150K bonus for being on the Opening Day roster. Maeda can earn an additional $10MM annually in incentives. He’d pick up $1MM each for reaching 15 and 20 starts, and $1.5MM apiece at 25, 30 and 32 starts; he can tack on up to $3.5MM based on his innings totals between 90 and 200 frames in a season, and he’d receive a $1MM assignment bonus in the event of a trade.
While there’s a chance for Maeda to earn more than Gray does next season, that’d only be in the event of his staying healthy after a lost season. If his elbow holds up and he regains his pre-surgery form, the 6’1″ hurler would be a nice addition to the middle of a starting staff. Maeda was brilliant in the shortened 2020 season, securing a second-place finish in AL Cy Young balloting with a 2.70 ERA in 11 starts. He struggled to a 4.66 mark in 21 appearances the next year, but his strikeout and walk rates remained strong. Since coming off from the Dodgers during the 2020-21 offseason, Maeda has provided the Twins 173 frames of 3.90 ERA ball with a 27.5% strikeout percentage.
It’s worth reiterating that while there’s no harm for other teams in reaching out to president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and his staff, Minnesota isn’t under any pressure to deal either pitcher. They’re both a year from free agency, but the Twins are generally expected to make another run at competing in 2023. Minnesota has had two straight disappointing seasons, and they’ll now have to overcome the free agent loss of Carlos Correa. Yet the Twins have ample payroll room, with a projected 2023 payroll nearly $30MM south of this past season’s Opening Day mark.
The Twins have been tied to each of the top two remaining free agents, Dansby Swanson and Carlos Rodón. They could fit either player into the long-term budget without subtracting anyone from the existing roster, and landing either would signal a firm commitment to trying to compete in the American League’s weakest division. Still, the Twins have also shown at least some willingness to shuffle up their MLB roster. They’ve reportedly given some consideration to moving defending AL batting champion Luis Arraez if it nets them major league help elsewhere, and they could explore a similar path with right fielder Max Kepler.
As things stand, Gray and Maeda are set to feature in an Opening Day rotation that’ll include Tyler Mahle, Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober. Prospects Simeon Woods Richardson and Josh Winder are on hand as depth options, as are Cole Sands and Louie Varland. Minnesota could welcome Chris Paddack back in the season’s final two months if his recovery from a second career Tommy John surgery goes according to plan. There’s enough health uncertainty the Twins could choose to stockpile their rotation depth, though the presence of a few interesting younger options at least gives the front office alternatives if they were to ponder making Gray or Maeda available.
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