Twins sign all-or-nothing slugger Joey Gallo, potentially setting up Max Kepler trade


Shortly after a press conference to introduce catcher Christian Vázquez concluded Friday, Derek Falvey made a rather obvious statement about the shape of his team’s roster.

“It’s hard for me, on December 16, to say, ‘This is our roster,’” he noted. “That would be foolish for me to say.”

Four hours later, the Twins’ president of baseball operations proved himself correct.

Completing their first move since a failed attempt to re-sign Carlos Correa ended earlier this week, the Twins signed veteran outfielder Joey Gallo to a one-year deal worth $11 million, a major-league source confirmed.

The acquisition not only offers Gallo, who is coming off the worst season of his career, a chance to prove his worth in time for a big payday next offseason, it provides the Twins with a potential avenue to trade Max Kepler from what has developed into a glut of left-handed hitters in the outfield corners. Gallo batted an underwhelming .160/.280/.357 with 19 home runs and 47 RBIs in 410 plate appearances for the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

Asked early Friday whether Kyle Farmer had become the team’s de facto starting shortstop after Correa’s 13-year, $350-million deal with the Giants was finalized, Falvey said: “I would be shocked if this is exactly our current roster by the time we get to spring training. I would want to reserve the right to answer that specifically until we get closer to March.”

Or, you know, a few hours later on Dec. 16.

The Twins acquired Farmer last month from the Cincinnati Reds at the non-tender trade deadline. Privately, Farmer had been viewed as an insurance policy if all the Twins’ plans for acquiring a full-time shortstop went awry. Over the past nine days, they have.

On Dec. 7, the San Diego Padres stunned the baseball world when they signed Xander Bogaerts, whom the Twins viewed as a fantastic backup plan if they failed to sign Correa, to an 11-year accord worth $282 million.

Then on Tuesday, the Giants finally ponied up to nab Correa, the Twins’ top target of the offseason. Saddened by a move they feared would transpire, the Twins needed to regroup. Gallo represents their first response to finding a new direction.

It won’t be the team’s last.

The Twins brought in Gallo for several reasons. Though his batting average ain’t sexy and the strikeouts are Miguel Sanó-esque, Gallo’s bat has thump. He averaged 30 homers per season while producing at a .208/.336/.497 clip from 2017-21. They also love the positional flexibility Gallo offers and plan to feature him at all three outfield spots, including in center field, as well as at first base.

But Gallo won’t be the team’s only response to missing on Correa. With pitchers and catchers not reporting for another two months, the Twins have plenty of time to address their roster and history suggests they will.

When the lockout finally ended on March 10, the Twins had an entire offseason’s worth of work to do in the four weeks before their April 7 season opener. In that span, the Twins traded for Sonny Gray, Gary Sánchez, Gio Urshela, Chris Paddack and Emilio Pagán while also signing Correa, Chris Archer and Joe Smith.

Though the most pessimistic among the fanbase have opined the Twins roster is complete, they aren’t close to finished.

“Our roster isn’t done,” Falvey said. “We need to continue to get through the offseason … there’s more time for us to figure out what our group and outfield looks like.”

Kepler already was a strong trade candidate before the Gallo signing, and adding another left-handed-hitting corner outfielder makes it seem likely he could be moved.

Twins officials have insisted that Kepler has tangible trade value relative to his $8.5 million salary despite back-to-back poor seasons. If they’re able to deal Kepler for something useful and replace him with Gallo in right field, they’d basically be paying $2.5 million for the difference between their 2023 performances and whatever additional value Kepler brings back in trade.

That could prove to be a nifty bit of roster maneuvering, particularly since Gallo is a similarly strong defensive right fielder and a more viable backup center fielder than Kepler at this point. And, like Kepler, he stands to benefit from the new shift limitations. But for that swap to actually pay off, Gallo needs to produce like he did in 2021 or 2017-19, not like he did in 2022 or 2020.

Gallo was one of MLB’s top sluggers from 2017-19, posting an .869 OPS and 120 OPS+ with 103 homers and 201 walks in 363 games. He struggled in the abbreviated 2020 campaign, but returned to All-Star form in 2021 with 38 homers, 111 walks and a 121 OPS+ in 153 games. And then it fell apart in 2022, as he hit .160 in an avalanche of strikeouts, leading to the 28-year-old two-time All-Star being available to the Twins on a prove-it contract.

Twins fans who grew frustrated with Sanó’s all-or-nothing approach at the plate, and were encouraged by the team cutting him loose last month, may want to stop reading right here.

Sanó has the second-highest career strikeout rate in MLB history at 36.4 percent. And the only player to whiff more often is Gallo, who sits atop the all-time career list at 37.3 percent, including 39.8 percent last season for the Yankees and Dodgers.

As with Sanó, there are times when Gallo’s inability to make consistent contact has made him borderline unplayable. Last season he was benched by New York and then traded for a minimal return, filling a part-time role in Los Angeles down the stretch.

But whereas Sanó is best suited for designated hitter, Gallo is a two-time Gold Glove-winning corner outfielder who also has experience in center field and at both infield corners. He’s a far better all-around player than Sanó — Gallo produced more Wins Above Replacement (8.4) from 2017-19 than Sanó has in his entire career (7.6) — and has more day-to-day utility to the Twins.

It’s easy to understand what the Twins see in Gallo as a bounce-back candidate. He has nearly unmatched raw power, averaging 38 homers per 162 career games, including a pair of 40-homer seasons and numerous jaw-dropping blasts every year. He also draws tons of walks to prop up his on-base percentage and is an asset as a baserunner, in addition to in the field.

But the strikeouts, and three straight seasons with a sub-.200 batting average, can be tough to ignore when he’s in an extended slump, and the Rangers, Yankees and Dodgers have all tried and failed to coax more consistent contact out of Gallo’s powerful bat. Few hitters have a wider range of possible 2023 performance than Gallo, who has played like an All-Star for much of his career and has also been one of the worst hitters in the league in multiple seasons, including the most recent one.

Vázquez will have opportunity to prove value

Repeatedly Friday, Vázquez noted he’d provide his new team more value from the field rather than on the bench. It appears the veteran will get that chance.

While Vázquez said a discussion with the team on how playing time with holdover catcher Ryan Jeffers hasn’t occurred, the Twins have indicated the veteran would receive the higher end of the split. Known for his strong game-calling, outstanding quick release and solid framing, Vázquez, who finalized a three-year deal worth $30 million, has demonstrated leadership qualities throughout an eight-year career in which he’s been part of two World Series championships.

“When we vetted the catching market this offseason, all free agents, potential trades, other ways to kind of build our group, Christian’s name kept coming to the top,” Falvey said. The Twins outbid the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers and Padres for Vázquez. Though he hasn’t played with any current Twins before, Vázquez felt the team isn’t far away from being a winner, especially with him behind the dish.

“They’re very close to winning a championship,” Vázquez said. “That’s very important to us and I can help them a lot behind the plate to bring a championship to this city.”

(Photo: Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)


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