Veteran leadership is necessary on a contending team. Still, a fine line exists where acquiring low-floor, low-ceiling players in the twilight of their careers can put a roster at a disadvantage. The lack of roster flexibility that comes with such players as well as the possibility of them falling off and damaging a team’s contention hopes is an issue the Twins have run into in recent years, and in 2023 they appear to be operating differently.
Half of the fun of spring training is attempting to put together the Opening Day roster based on performances, interviews, etc. The Twins only had a few roster spots to fill and a handful of veteran-type players they’d been drawn to in recent years. Particularly in the bullpen, it appeared at one point that the Twins were certain to allocate a spot to a veteran reliever as we’ve seen them do in recent years.
Jeff Hoffman had a great (thought limited) spring performance and had a minor-league contract with multiple opt-outs should he fail to make the Twins roster. It was easy to say the Twins would likely keep him rather than risk losing him based on how they’d behaved in previous seasons. He was reassigned to minor-league camp over the weekend, and on Tuesday, he opted out for an opportunity elsewhere.
Danny Coulombe was not only a grizzled, journeyman veteran, but one the Twins are familiar with after years with the organization. He too put up stellar spring numbers before being reassigned to minor league camp. He had an agreement in his deal that if a major-league opportunity was available to him and he wasn't on the Twins roster, he could pursue it. So, he is now a member of the Baltimore Orioles, and the Twins got a little cash from them.
Barring a late spring waiver claim, it appears Cole Sands is set to make the Opening Day roster. Rather than utilizing his remaining options on day one, the Twins have sided with his youth and roster flexibility. If the Twins have a need for another pitcher early in April, Sands can be optioned. If he struggles, the Twins won’t allow him to stay on the team for months out of fear of losing him on waivers. On top of it all, Cole Sands has more long and short-term potential than a Joe Smith-type signing.
Further examples can be found in the starting rotation, where the Twins have chosen to forego low-impact veteran acquisitions and instead shot for the moon in acquiring Pablo Lopez this spring. They may have chosen Kenta Maeda over Bailey Ober despite their polar opposite spring training performances, but the hope is that even post-Tommy John Maeda is better than a Dylan Bundy type. They could have earmarked $7m for a 30-something-year-old fifth starter whose upside was 150 innings of a 4.80 ERA, but they decided against it after the previous two seasons of watching such additions play out.
Perhaps the team feels more young players are ready to play a role on the 2023 team. It’s also possible they’ve realized that youth and upside are a better bet than what they perceive as a higher floor. At any rate, it’s a welcome change after watching them allow several players to suffer through the possible end of their careers on a roster that’s trying to compete.
The Twins are carrying very few roster-clogging veterans in 2023. They didn’t waste a moderate amount of money on players who are undoubtedly past their primes. They also don’t have too many roster spots dedicated to fringe players without options. There were certainly things to like about Danny Coulombe and Jeff Hoffman-type players, but those likable qualities have led to the Twins hanging onto this mold of player long past when they should have in the past, and it’s cost them.
It’s a welcome change in 2023, as even the choice of Cole Sands over an option-less veteran in the bullpen allows for much more roster flexibility. The rotation has more depth and upside than it’s had in years. The Twins finally dialing back on bottom-tier free agents and waiver claims to fill out their roster makes for a much more interesting squad, and opens the door for a wave of youth to spill onto the team throughout the season. The Twins have changed their approach.
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