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Why the Twins should sign Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel

They’ve had a successful offseason so far, but Keuchel and Kimbrel would top it off.

League Championship Series - Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros - Game Three Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

A quick scan of FanGraphs’ 2019 projected standings doesn’t yield a lot of surprises. The Red Sox, Yankees and Astros are all expected to be at the top of the league, and the Tigers, Marlins and Orioles are all expected to be at the bottom.

The middle, of course, is where the interesting projections lie. Every team in the NL Central is projected between 79 and 87 wins. In the NL East, a similar situation (with the exception of the Marlins). The AL, meanwhile, seems more cut-and-dried.

As of this writing, the Twins are projected to go 83-79. This would represent a modest increase over their 78-84 record from 2018. And, while 83-79 sounds unimpressive to say the least, that record would project them to finish just two games outside of the second Wild Card spot. (It is worth mentioning that the second AL Wild Card team is likely to be a team that significantly outperforms their projections.)

The Twins have made a lot of quiet upgrades this offseason that have contributed to this uptick in their 2019 projection. Let’s highlight them briefly.

Twins’ Position Player Additions, 2019 Depth Charts Projections

Name How Acquired Proj. Position AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Off Def WAR
Name How Acquired Proj. Position AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Off Def WAR
C.J. Cron Waivers 1B .262 .323 .482 115 8.2 -7.6 1.8
Nelson Cruz Free Agent DH .282 .361 .533 139 26.2 -15.8 3.2
Jonathan Schoop Free Agent 2B .266 .307 .469 106 3.4 -0.2 2.2

Twins’ Pitcher Additions, 2019 Depth Charts Projections

Name How Acquired Proj. Position IP ERA FIP K% BB% K%-BB% fWAR
Name How Acquired Proj. Position IP ERA FIP K% BB% K%-BB% fWAR
Blake Parker Free Agent RP 65.0 4.21 4.19 23.2% 8.0% 15.2% 0.4
Martin Perez Free Agent SP 123.0 4.69 4.68 14.8% 7.9% 6.9% 0.9

The Twins have clearly made strides toward contention in 2019. The five additions that are highlighted above project to be worth a combined 8.5 fWAR. Those are certainly major upgrades that could put the Twins well within striking distance come postseason time. With a couple of breaks here and there, they could potentially find themselves back in the AL Wild Card Game. (The Twins lost to the Yankees in the 2017 AL Wild Card Game.)

But could the Twins do more? Should they?

The answer is unequivocally yes.

Even with all of these offseason moves, the Twins’ projected Opening Day payroll sits at $99.9 million. This would represent a $28.8 million decrease off of their 2018 Opening Day payroll of $128.7 million. Not that it’s a factor in this case, but if the Twins wanted to splurge on the remaining free agent market, they project to be over $90 million below the luxury tax for 2019.

Think about it this way: The Twins could sign Manny Machado and Bryce Harper to $35 million per year deals each and still fall more than $20 million short of the luxury tax.

It’s highly unlikely that Minnesota would go out and sign either Machado or Harper, even though adding both would likely make them serious contenders to win the AL Central. The Indians currently project to win the AL Central with 93 wins. Putting Machado and Harper on the Twins would likely increase their projected win total by about seven or eight wins, getting them to the 90-91 win range.

That’s just a fantasy scenario, unfortunately. In reality, the Twins can still make productive moves with the free agents that are still unsigned. Considering they have no money tied up past 2019, adding a Dallas Keuchel or a Craig Kimbrel would not strain them financially and would also make them significantly better this upcoming season.

Dallas Keuchel on the Twins

While Keuchel is not as good as he was when he won the Cy Young, he’s certainly a major upgrade over what the Twins currently have in their rotation.

As of today, Martin Perez is the Twins’ fifth starter. With the addition of Keuchel, Perez would be bumped to the bullpen. We can’t use a simple fWAR/IP ratio to project Perez’s new fWAR out of the bullpen because the calculations are slightly different for a starter versus a reliever. Perez wouldn’t be pitching in high leverage situations, so his fWAR is likely to really suffer. For the purposes of this exercise, let’s just assume that his fWAR goes to 0.0, a worst-case scenario.

Keuchel, then, would be providing positive value over whatever Perez was already projected. Since Perez is projected to produce 0.9 fWAR in 2019 and Keuchel 3.3, Keuchel would represent an approximate 2.4-win improvement.

Twins’ updated 2019 projection: 85-77, tied for second AL Wild Card spot with Rays

Craig Kimbrel on the Twins

Kimbrel, too, is no longer at his peak. Like with Keuchel, that doesn’t mean he isn’t valuable. Considering the Twins rank 19th in projected fWAR from relief pitchers, Kimbrel would represent a huge upgrade.

Let’s do the same exercise as I did just above. Kimbrel would replace the Twins’ worst relief pitcher. For this, it’s really just a “take your pick,” as the Twins have many relievers who are projected to be worth 0.0 fWAR in 2019. In actuality, Addison Reed is projected to post the worst fWAR at -0.1, but bringing Kimbrel in as a free agent wouldn’t result in the release of the $8.5 million man Reed.

Thus, Kimbrel’s 65 innings at 2.1 fWAR would be all surplus for the Twins. There isn’t value that needs to be subtracted out here, considering they have 180 relief pitcher innings that are projected to be worth a total of 0.0 fWAR. Kimbrel would just turn that 180 innings pitched number down to 115, all while adding in a projected two wins.

Twins’ updated 2019 projection: 85-77, tied for second AL Wild Card spot with Rays

What about both?

If the Twins signed both Keuchel and Kimbrel, then they’d be looking at an approximate 4.5 win improvement, moving their projection from 83 wins to somewhere between 87 and 88 wins. That would move them within six games of the Indians, or within one standard deviation, giving them more-than-decent odds to win the AL Central. (The standard deviation for projected wins works out to be about 6.36.)

Look at how much closer that gets the Twins to the Indians:

Obviously, in both charts, the Twins’ low win bound is lower than the Indians’ and the Indians’ high win bound is higher than the Twins’. But, in chart two, the range of probabilities in which the two teams’ win totals overlap is much larger.

Currently, with their 93 and 83-win projections, respectively, the Twins would be projected to win more games than the Indians approximately 13.3 percent of the time. In a world in which the Twins’ win projection jumps to 87 wins, they’d win more games than the Indians approximately 25.2 percent of the time.

In simple terms, what this means is, by signing Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel, the Twins’ odds to win the division in 2019 would nearly double.

In even simpler terms: Twins, it’s time to make the moves.

Devan Fink is a Featured Writer at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.