Twins Offseason Grade Saved by Rain
Image courtesy of © Eric Hartline-USA TODAY SportsThad Levine has gone on record noting the Twins interest in Zack Wheeler. They were reportedly in on Hyun-Jin Ryu, and there was question about a few other arms that may make sense. Ultimately though, Minnesota never landed that big fish pitcher. When they decided that Plan A was no longer the preferred route, a shift in focus became necessary. In doing so, it cemented everything else they did, and helped to establish an offseason of success with 2020 square in their sights.
Instead of giving just a singular grade to the work as a whole, let’s break things down individually:
Backup Catcher- Alex Avila replaces Jason Castro
In 2019 Mitch Garver emerged as one of the game’s best. He took massive steps forward behind the dish and was unquestionably the best with the bat. Needing a new battery mate, the decision was made to move on from Castro. Alex Avila posted a .775 OPS and was exactly average by OPS+ standards last year. He is an adequate defender and is just two years removed from a career season with the divisional for Tigers. This wasn’t flashy by any means, but it’s a fair swap by all measures.
Corner Infielder- Josh Donaldson replaces C.J. Cron
With Cron being non-tendered by Minnesota, it was time to decide if first or third base was the position being addressed. Once the pitching market shifted, the Twins best opportunity for impact came from one of the best players to hit the open market. Josh Donaldson significantly elevates the infield defense, Miguel Sano could arguably be better suited for first base, and Rocco Baldelli will now write out a lineup card that features the best nine in baseball. Donaldson is a star, and the richest Twins' free agent deal in history was more than well deserved. This one was as much a bomba as those he’ll hit this year at Target Field.
Starting Pitcher- Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda retained. Homer Bailey and Rich Hill replace Kyle Gibson and Martin Perez
These moves received plenty of consternation in the scope of the offseason as a whole, but viewed individually, they seem pretty great. Odorizzi was arguably Minnesota’s best pitcher last season, and Pineda was lights out down the stretch. Getting that duo back at what equates to less than market value is a good deal.
Bailey isn’t a sexy name, but neither was Kyle Gibson. The longtime Reds ace posted a 4.57 ERA last year but had a 3.65 FIP with Oakland in his final 73.1 IP. As a third or fourth starter with an assist from Wes Johnson, I think you could do a lot worse.
Arguably the biggest win here is in the form of a guy who could definitely be considered “impact.” Despite a 15-year major league pitching career, Rich Hill has accumulated only 937 innings while making 156 starts. The bad is that he’s a 40-year-old with an extensive injury history. The good news though, is essentially everything else. Hill hasn’t seen a dip in his stuff, he mows down opposing hitters, and he’s got 12 postseason starts under his belt. The 4.10 FIP last year is reason for pause, but if he can go back to limiting the long ball, he’ll be great down the stretch.
Relief Pitching- Sergio Romo retained. Tyler Clippard replaced Sam Dyson.
At the trade deadline Minnesota made a swap with the Miami Marlins for the veteran righty. Now a slider specialist, Romo was having a plenty fine year for the fish. After producing to the tune of a 3.35 FIP and 10.7 K/9 in 22.2 IP, his presence in the clubhouse was one that made sense to welcome back. He gets a slight bump in pay with a team option for 2022. He’ll be 39, but he still looks the part of a guy that can contribute high-leverage innings.
Coming over from a division rival in Cleveland, Clippard had his best year since 2014. The 2.90 ERA is sparkly, and the 3.89 FIP suggests it’s at least somewhat for real. He can rack up strikeouts, limits hits, and actually saw a slight decrease in the long ball a year ago. Sam Dyson was supposed to be a bit better based on his Giants numbers, but that blew up and his shoulder is done. Clippard provides plenty of reason to believe in a similar or better level of success.
Minnesota needed pitching this offseason, and while they didn’t get the top-of-the-rotation arm, they did take steps forward. On top of that, the team found a way to improve an already lethal lineup and adding further run support is another avenue to success. Minnesota looked pretty dead in the water up until the Donaldson signing, even if it was enough to hold serve in the division. That should be a reminder that situations are consistently fluid, and the front office is actively trying to get better. They are soon closing the door on an opportunity to spend dollars, but they remain incredibly rich in prospect capital.
Before the leaves fall and October baseball begins, the Twins have more work to do. Not only is there a need to win games and position themselves for postseason baseball, they’ll need a reinforcement or two in order to stack up. The top-tier pitcher is what holds the grade back, but it’s hard to be anything less than pleased by the overall result.
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