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The Minnesota Twins established a new front office under Derek Falvey and Thad Levine with the expectation that organizational pitching woes would be averted. It started that way, but things flopped hard in 2021.

Across the division in Cleveland, Falvey grew a reputation for being able to develop pitching. Minnesota needed to overhaul that aspect of their development, and the early returns were promising. Despite the Bomba Squad emerging in 2019, Minnesota also became the best pitching version of itself that the franchise had seen in years. Taylor Rogers was elite, Tyler Duffey was transformed, and a number of fliers worked out.

Enter 2021 and things couldn’t be further from that reality. This Twins club owns the 29th overall fWAR mark from their pitching staff, and both starters and relievers have been collectively terrible. The lineup took a bit to get going, but it hasn’t been an issue for weeks. With the White Sox now having all but ended Minnesota’s chances in the year ahead, a look at 2022 puts both Falvey and Levine squarely on the hot seat.

Given the amount of talent eyeing a return on this roster, and the unexpected nature of these results, a full rebuild should not be the course of action in 2022. Reloading and trying it again with some new pieces makes all the sense in the world. What the front office must not do again however, is look to shop in the bargain bin and think the process will entirely translate into results.

I have long harped on the infrastructure brought in by this front office as being exceptional. That still rings true. Wes Johnson is a good pitching coach, and throughout the farm there’s intelligent instructors. At some point though, you can’t bank entirely on a blueprint squeeze more juice from an already cashed fruit. J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker were fine back-end additions, but they both relied entirely on depth with nothing done to raise the water level.

From the vantage point we have now, walking through this smoldering warzone, Falvey has virtually nothing to show for this season. The plethora of waiver claims all failed to pan out, save for the small sample of Luke Farrell. Happ and Shoemaker have been terrible. Randy Dobnak was extended, then optioned, and has never had a real defined role. On the farm, each of the top prospects has now gone down with arm issues, likely due to the year off. Yes, Josh Winder and Jordan Balazovic look good, but there’s more reason to be cautious than excited at this point.

In the year ahead it will be on the Twins to use their depth as a fall back plan rather than seeing it as a source of reliance. Signings like Happ and Shoemaker indicated a belief one or both would soon be bumped as prospects came for their spots. Now Shoemaker is gone entirely, and the lack of options becomes even more glaring with yet another miss added to the books. Jose Berrios has been good, but not yet elevated to the next step, and now the talk of trading him lands even more into a questionable realm for me.

Over the winter the plan has to be pitching, spending on it, and making sure it’s right. Relief arms are generally fickle year over year. Expecting Alexander Colome to fall this hard wasn’t a good bet. In 2022 you can reshuffle that group and bring in new faces, but they can’t be supplemented with a bunch of fall back options just ran out in case of emergency. The starting staff needs a legit arm that slots in to the top three, and that’s on top of paying or at least keeping Berrios.

One bad season in the midst of such turnaround isn’t going to cost the front office their jobs, but there is plenty of reason to question why Derek Falvey hasn’t come through with his calling card should we see two years’ worth of these results. It’s time to right this ship, fix it, and prove the belief has been warranted. Dollars, development, whatever path you want to take, pitching can not be a problem for the Twins in the year ahead.

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My impression of the Twins plan coming into the season was that Happ and Shoemaker were placeholders until the Twins top pitching prospects were ready. Unfortunately Happ/Shoemaker were both terrible and the next level of mediocre depth fell apart (Dobnak, Thorpe, and Smeltzer). To make matters worse, Maeda and Pineda have had injury issues that have limited their effective innings. Adding insult to injury, the top pitching prospects have been injured (Duran and Canterino) or had a very late start with inconsistent results (Balazovic). Basically every facet of the starting pitching has collapsed this season leaving no way to salvage the rotation. 

I don't know that anyone could have predicted the complete meltdown on every level, but some of the issues were not surprising (Happ/Shoemaker disaster). The front office needs to put a much better plan in place for 2022 if they hope to be competitive.

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5 minutes ago, Mike Sixel said:

I'm still waiting for any evidence they can identify and develop legit pitching. So far, their track record is awful. Truly awful. Not even a legit RP so far. 

This. A hundred times this. There is zero evidence that he has any special abilities in this area yet it keeps being repeated. For all we know he had nothing to do with Cleveland pitching development. 

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I appreciate the article identifying "Falvey" in specific. I see a lot of the "Falvine" out there, but I've gotten the impression Levine is more aggressive than Falvey when it comes to the free agent market from quotes given by Levine vs. moves actually made by Falvey. That said, I'm still not entirely sure who does what when it comes to player personnel because the two maintain such a unified appearance so I could be wrong.

I don't think Falvey or Levine are going anywhere prior to the end of their new contract. The Pohlads are an incredibly conservative ownership group and dismissing people under contract just doesn't seem to be a move they'd likely make. It also feels to me the Pohlads have a relatively unique perspective on expected team performance. I really feel they aim for the expectation of being at least a bit north of .500 long term with the hopes they get hot at the right time rather than to make a concerted effort to put a World Series caliber team on the field with the potential it may cost the long term a bit.

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I am not as confident in Wes Johnson. He seemed to work miracles with Tyler Duffey. Look at the whiff percentage on his fastballs by season.

Before Wes his fastball was mediocre to poor.

13.1, 13.6, 18.6, 17.3

2019-2020 it was outstanding with XBAs under .200

30.2, 29.5

In 2021 it is back to the start of his career.

15.2

What changed when Wes arrived? Was it tunneling? Fastball location? 
What is different this year that the whiff rate has returned to pre-Wes levels?

 

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59 minutes ago, Mike Sixel said:

I'm still waiting for any evidence they can identify and develop legit pitching. So far, their track record is awful. Truly awful. Not even a legit RP so far. 

I couldn't agree more  Pitching held up in '20, give or take the back end of the starting rotation, but really hasn't been special going back to '17.  The free agents they signed in '18 bombed and back end starters in '20 and '21 have bombed.  They were given the first two years for free, rode 307 home runs to success in their 3rd year, and have regressed pretty far since then.  Correct me if I am forgetting something, but they only seem to sell in July, then sign free agents in January.  Everyone is put on innings and pitch counts and, yet, they all still manage to get injured.........a connection, maybe?  Let the kids stretch out and see if they have the stuff to go 162 games.  But I digress.  We will see how this July sale goes before I burn my Twins jersey.  )

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43 minutes ago, bean5302 said:

I appreciate the article identifying "Falvey" in specific. I see a lot of the "Falvine" out there, but I've gotten the impression Levine is more aggressive than Falvey when it comes to the free agent market from quotes given by Levine vs. moves actually made by Falvey. That said, I'm still not entirely sure who does what when it comes to player personnel because the two maintain such a unified appearance so I could be wrong.

I don't think Falvey or Levine are going anywhere prior to the end of their new contract. The Pohlads are an incredibly conservative ownership group and dismissing people under contract just doesn't seem to be a move they'd likely make. It also feels to me the Pohlads have a relatively unique perspective on expected team performance. I really feel they aim for the expectation of being at least a bit north of .500 long term with the hopes they get hot at the right time rather than to make a concerted effort to put a World Series caliber team on the field with the potential it may cost the long term a bit.

There is an old expression: "when everyone is in charge of something, no ONE is".  Who is actually in charge here?  Who takes the pats on the back when it works and the blame when it doesn't?  So far I haven't seen any ONE identified.  Have I missed something?

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Excellent article and comments.  The previous two years the offense bailed out the pitching.  It's disgraceful that they apparantly have no scouting skills.  Seems as far as pitching goes we are always shopping for bargains.  You get what what you pay for.

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2 hours ago, Mike Sixel said:

I'm still waiting for any evidence they can identify and develop legit pitching. So far, their track record is awful. Truly awful. Not even a legit RP so far. 

I think they expected this to be the season that the minor league pitching pipeline started to show results, unfortunately most of the near major league ready pitching prospects have been injured. Duran, Canterino, Enlow, and Sands are currently on the IL and Balazovic started so late that he was not a realistic option up to this point. The best case scenario for the rest of the season is that 4 or 5 out of Duran, Canterino, Balazovic, Winder, Sands, and Vallimont make their debut later this year. Once we start seeing these guys in the majors we will have a better idea of how well the front office has done at identifying and developing pitching talent.

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12 minutes ago, twins_89 said:

I think they expected this to be the season that the minor league pitching pipeline started to show results 

Well that was pretty optimistic  given there was no minor league season last year. If that was the plan, it was based on pure speculation, not any kind of knowledge. 

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2 hours ago, Mark G said:

There is an old expression: "when everyone is in charge of something, no ONE is".  Who is actually in charge here?  Who takes the pats on the back when it works and the blame when it doesn't?  So far I haven't seen any ONE identified.  Have I missed something?

Falvey is Levine's boss. That much is certain. How much freedom Falvey affords Levine in decision making is a total question mark. The organization of the front office, in general, seems to have confused almost everybody.

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My understanding was payroll was going to settle at 130M this season, then learn its actually closer  to 117...I could be wrong but recall Feb article here abt that issue. Org gets a covid pass this year. But not 2022. Not just FA's, but ownership needs willingness to commit to their own (Berrios), and take on mlb salary in trades to improve roster. If not, Twins will be  nibbling around the edges of mediocrity for a long time.

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4 hours ago, bean5302 said:

... I really feel they aim for the expectation of being at least a bit north of .500 long term with the hopes they get hot at the right time rather than to make a concerted effort to put a World Series caliber team on the field with the potential it may cost the long term a bit.

 

Oh, yeah. A number of us were not happy with the Shoemaker and Happ signings in January. Life on get by, rather than getting the horse this team needs.

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4 minutes ago, Hosken Bombo Disco said:

It is a huge concern. Even in 2019, they were down to two starting pitchers by the end. How deep into the postseason did they think they would go with only two starters!

Not very.....unless they were Viola and Blyleven.

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7 hours ago, Mark G said:

I couldn't agree more  Pitching held up in '20, give or take the back end of the starting rotation, but really hasn't been special going back to '17.  The free agents they signed in '18 bombed and back end starters in '20 and '21 have bombed.

Odorizzi was a solid acquisition in 2018 (and is starting to pay off for the Astros now too, maybe we should have kept him?). Pineda had been good when he was on the field until recently, and Hill was all right in 2020 too.

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It has been said AND DONE over and over, "You get what you pay for". If anyone would have payed attention to the past regime of Terry Ryan and his annual dumpster diving they wouldn't STILL be doing it. What did they really expect with Happ and Shoemaker? Two miracles? Yes, Pitching should be a priority for next year. Finding an offense that can score by a means other than HomeRuns would be good too. When you can't Pitch and can't Hit, you get what you got right now. 

I'm not sold on Berrios. For the right return, I'd trade him.

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5 hours ago, KBJ1 said:

They cant be serious about this talk of trading Barrios.

Why not?  According to most of the "experts" on MLB radio, Berrios wants to test free agency.  If that happens, the Twins have nothing to show for keeping him.  If they trade him now when he will be the #1 pitcher in demand at the trade deadline (again according to MLB radio), they get something back.  And they can still try to sign him when he does go to free agency.  Win-Win.

People seem to forget that a contract involves two sides.  If one side doesn't want to sign (Berrios and probably Buxton), then there will be no contract no matter what the offer is.  This isn't baseball that existed before Lou Brock.

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Pitching has always been the key to the game - WS wins are usually about pitching.  But signing them is not that easy, would you pay $40 million for Bauer - I would not.   Where this team really failed was the BP and staying with Shoemaker when it was obvious that his arm was gone.  Thorpe, Dobnak, Smeltzer are just names, not real options, but the team did not seem to realize this.  The BP was poor and then with the 4 inning starter they were over taxed.  So much needs to change.  I do not know how this will change unless the minor leaguers come in and blow us away with their talent and somehow the BP finds magic arms that can last for way too many appearances. 

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It seems to me the litmus test for these guys is whether or not the minor league pipeline can start churning out arms. Everything up to now has been band-aids to make do with veterans and reclamation projects. 2020/2021 set back that pipeline so we don’t have much to go on yet. There appear to be a number of talented arms on the cusp and in the next year we’ll start to see hard data on their results. I’m skeptical, but I’m giving them that time before taking a strong stance.

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19 hours ago, USAFChief said:

Well that was pretty optimistic  given there was no minor league season last year. If that was the plan, it was based on pure speculation, not any kind of knowledge. 

There being no minor league season last year made their lives way harder. If the plan from 2018, 2019, and going into 2020 was that the arms they were developing were on schedule to start arriving in 2020/2021 it's pretty hard to change gears when 2020 gets shutdown. Every major prospect ranking, scouting, whatever outlet had 5 or 6 minor leaguers set to debut this year for the Twins when they put out their reports going into 2020. It wasn't unreasonable for the Twins to have been planning on that to happen. So having Berrios and bringing in Maeda while extending Pineda looked like a solid, if unspectacular top 3 of veterans and then you get to fill in with your up and coming arms mixed with backend veteran types. 

They, reportedly, had looked to bring in Darvish, Ryu, MadBum, etc. on longer term deals, but couldn't get them. So they traded for Maeda. Then they went into 2020 with Rich Hill type signings as a veteran on a short deal that can be replaced by a young arm as they become ready. That was a very logical move going into 2020. Then the season was lost. Now they have to go into 2021 coming off a season of lost revenue and having their plan blown up and try to adjust. I liked the Happ signing, Shoemaker seemed reasonable as a guy to get a couple months out of. With Dobnak, Thorpe, and Smeltzer there to provide 5 guys for 2 spots when trying to get 900 more innings pitched this year compared to last year. Then MLB pushed the minor league season back a month and delays our prospects even more. (I'm still not sure why they did that) 

But planning around your arms starting to show up in 2020 a little and the full wave starting to be ready in 2021 looked more than reasonable at the time. They signed contracts and built their budget around that idea. Then 2020 goes the way it does and everything is thrown for a loop. I don't think they had much hope of going to the Pohlads and telling them they need an extra 30m to sign pitchers because the 2020 season shut down right after the Pohlads lost a ton of money. The Pohlads did right by their employees by paying them through the pandemic, but weren't going to boost payroll to make up for the delay in prospect timelines when they just lost 10s of millions of dollars.

All of this is to say that the plan to have arms from the system start taking over this year wasn't just hatched during or after the 2020 season. It had likely been the plan for years and signing someone like Donaldson for big money was done with the thought that they'd have a number of prospects on minimum contracts coming up and contributing. When the prospect timelines got pushed back (due to things out of the team or prospect's control) it blew up their whole plan (I obviously don't know this was actually their plan, but it would've been mine). 

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The inability to draft and develop top of the rotation starters has been an ongoing problem. You’ve got to have a legit stopper, which as a number 3 starter isn’t. Consequently they bargain basement shop hoping someone can resurrect one more year for his career. I don’t think you can make a playoff run doing that. The good news is they have some young position talent with potential.

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5 minutes ago, Hosken Bombo Disco said:

Under the same constraints the Twins faced. For example, the 2020 minor league season was cancelled for all teams, not just the Twins. 

Right.....

I get it. The farm was BARREN of pitching prospects....but that doesn't mean this FO should have Ober and ??? to show for their time here. That's it, right? Of the MLB pitchers, they have maybe 1 guy anyone trusts? Alcala? Jax? Dobnak?

Who have they brought up from the minors anyone really believes with any certainty is a MLB pitcher, let alone starting pitcher?

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