There’s still patches of snow on the ground in the Twin Cities, and there was already a postponement before a pitch has been thrown. Welcome back, Minnesota Twins baseball.
The Mariners are in town this weekend, followed by the Dodgers next week; but a six-game homestand isn’t the most captivating storyline this week. Rather, did the moves the front office made during the lockout-shortened offseason put this team in a position to rise from the ashes and shake the forgettable 2021 season?
Fox Sports’ pundit Colin Cowherd often says “aggressive wins” in sports today. Think about the 2019 Toronto Raptors, 2020 Los Angeles Lakers, 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2021 Los Angeles Rams, 2020 Los Angeles Dodgers (lots of LA teams in there, what’s up with that?), and 2021 Atlanta Braves. Every single one of these teams won their respective league championships by taking risks and being aggressive. The ‘21 Braves were under .500 and 5 games back in a weak NL East at the trade deadline. Understanding the wackiness of the MLB playoffs and how just getting into the tournament sometimes is all you need to go on a World Series run (1987 Twins, anyone?), the Braves took a big swing. They traded for an embarrassment of outfield riches to mend their tattered outfield: Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario (ED-DIE!, ED-DIE!), Joc Pederson, and Jorge Soler all came to the ATL . How’d that work out for them? Well, Rosario won NLCS MVP, Soler World Series MVP (pretty sure it was mostly because of this), and Joc Pederson’s pearls made even grandmas envious. Moral of the story: be aggressive and be rewarded.
Were Derek Falvey and Co. aggressive enough this offseason? Well, it’s complicated. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard that they acquired arguably the top free agent on the market, Carlos Correa, and paid him the highest annual salary for an infielder ever . That seems aggressive enough. They traded away 2019 Silver Slugger winner Mitch Garver and 2015 American League MVP Josh Donaldson, ultimately receiving back two serviceable everyday players and a bunch of open cap space (parting the waters for the Correa deal). Definitely aggressive, slightly risky. Their most glaring hole, however, was starting pitching. Due to the departure of Jose Berrios at the 2021 trade deadline (just a reminder in case you tuned out the team last year) and Kenta Maeda’s Tommy John surgery sidelining him for most, if not all of 2022, the Twins were basically left with two diaper dandies in Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan, who combined have only pitched in 25 Major League games for a total of 119 innings  . Recognizing that five starters are generally required to field a team, Falvey brought in Chris Archer, Dylan Bundy, Chris Paddock (a trade that lost Minnesota their All-Star closer in Taylor Rogers), and Sonny Gray, four pitchers with varying levels of previous success; but due to injuries and natural decline from age, all are unlikely to perform at said levels. Throw in a couple moderate-impact bullpen moves, and Twins are where they are as Opening Day awaits. Sort of aggressive?
So, were these moves enough to compete with the White Sox (don’t sleep on Detroit this year either) for the AL Central and possibly more in 2022?
The Twins have an offense that will keep tomorrow’s starting pitcher awake at night. Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton (based on his spring, I’d just walk him every time this year), Jorge Polanco lead a group that is a force to be reckoned with. The jury’s still out on whether Max Kepler can be 2019 Max Kepler again, but I’d have no interest pitching to Miguel Sano’s biceps (he’s better than you think), Alex Kiriloff’s smooth stroke, or Luis Arraez’s slappy stick.
The bullpen should be fine. Losing Rogers definitely hurts, and you could make a legitimate argument that the Twins are worse off for this season than they were before the deal. Emilio Pagan arrived in the Rogers-Paddack deal, Caleb Thielbar was sneaky good last year, Joe Smith’s sidearm delivery can still baffle professional hitters, and a couple rookie flamethrowers could be x-factors.
And we’re back to starting pitching. Thankfully there is a full rotation now, but in order to really make the rotation stalwart, more was required. There were plenty of free agent aces available this winter, but the Twins waited out the market so as to not overpay, and ultimately lost out on all the big names: Robbie Ray, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman, and Carlos Rodon all signed elsewhere . On the other hand, in order to make a splash in the starting pitcher trade market, the Twins likely would have been asked to give up a considerable haul of their nearly-major-league-ready prospects in return, something they don’t seem willing to do.
Maybe the Twins’ hesitation to really go all in on starting pitching is justified. Yes, Carlos Correa has an opt-out after each season of his contract, so he could jump ship if this team isn’t competitive enough to his liking. But considering the required cost to fill the rotation, coupled with multiple top pitching prospects chomping at the bit for their shot, maybe this year wasn’t the year to push all the chips in. Maybe doing enough to be relevant again while betting on some of those aforementioned, almost-ready, super-promising prospects to provide an impact was the right move.
This team will be fun and highly competitive (if they stay healthy, which is a big “if”) in an ever-weak AL Central. Winning consecutive division titles is harder than you think (just ask the 2021 Twins), so just because Chicago owned the division last year doesn’t guarantee anything. And don’t forget: all it takes is sneaking into October. Anything can happen then.