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The Twins are looking healthy for 2018 — and beyond

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With a strong offseason, the Twins have shown they are here this year to play. Just how far will this young team go?

Minnesota Twins Photo Day
Look at me. Look at me. I’m the captain now.
Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

This MLB offseason was pretty weird, to say the least. Most of the top free agents stayed unsigned well into the new year, even well into spring training, in a way that has never happened before. At the same time, other teams ostentatiously traded away nearly all of their assets in what seemed to be an attempt to actually lose in order to gain better draft picks.

“Collusion.”

“Tanking.”

These were keywords and topics that dominated the 2017-2018 offseason...

But not for the Minnesota Twins.

The Twins just had their best offseason ever. I’m not kidding. That might not be saying much, though, considering the Twins have never been big offseason players. But the team already had a core of young, cheap, and highly-talented players, with the likes of Byron Buxton , Miguel Sano, Jose Berrios, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler, not to mention proven veterans like Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer. The front office — headed by Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine — along with owner Jim Pohlad, recognized that the time to add pieces was now.

Reportedly, Pohlad — the team’s billionaire owner, who largely stays hands-off actual baseball operations decisions — trusted Falvey and Levine so much he essentially gave them a blank check to make any moves they found reasonable. So Falvey and Levine did just what you’d expect: they went hog-wild and signed every top free agent on the market stayed reasonable. Really reasonable. Exceptionally reasonable, even. They looked at the slow free agent market, and the teams looking to shed payroll, and used both to their advantage, craftily building a stronger team not just for 2018, but for 2019 and beyond as well.

If you don’t think the Twins will compete this season, you’re quite wrong.

Taking advantage of the free agent market

Like all teams, the Twins started off slow this offseason, only adding veteran relievers Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke, and injured starter Michael Pineda — who likely won’t pitch in 2018, but is a great forward-thinking deal for 2019. A lot of us Twins fans, used to the ways of former GM Terry Ryan and Co., thought that’d be it.

Luckily, that was not it.

Thanks largely to the slow market, the Twins were able to swoop in and sign a bunch of guys they normally would not sign, at least not all in one year, late in the offseason. It started in early January, when the Twins signed Addison Reed to a two-year deal — the first and only multi-year contract the team has ever given to a free agent reliever from outside the organization. When it came out that Ervin Santana would miss at least the first month of the season with surgery on his middle finger, the team went out and picked up... Anibal Sanchez? Okay, that one was a little weird.

After that, weeks after spring training had already started, came the best signings of the offseason: Logan Morrison as the new DH, almost out of nowhere; and, of course, Lance Lynn, who the Twins signed for only one year, $12 million. At the beginning of the offseason, MLB Trade Rumors estimated that Lynn would sign somewhere for four years, $56 million. That’s just a bit of a bargain for the Twins (who, by the way, released Anibal Sanchez to make room for Lynn… which makes sense).

Lynn apparently had better offers from other teams, but guess what? He wanted to come to the Twins. Guess why? Byron Buxton can catch everything the market wouldn’t pay him Because the Twins were competitive last year, and they finally had an offseason where they showed a commitment to staying competitive for the next year (at least).

But wait — there’s more!

Getting back to that “tanking” thing — the Twins also added one other significant player, trading infield prospect Jermaine Palacios to the Rays for starter Jake Odorizzi. Odorizzi, 27, will probably become the number three or four guy in the Twins rotation, which was easily the team’s biggest weakness in 2017. It’s a good, cheap upgrade for the Twins. I mean, for a little perspective here, Palacios was, like, maybe the fourth or fifth best shortstop prospect the Twins had? Obviously the Rays were just trying to dump salary, but still, Odorizzi is only making $6.3 million in 2018. That’s not much by today’s MLB salary terms. Really, the Twins made out like a bunch of bandits at a millionaires party where no one even notices that an entire unopened bottle of Maker’s Mark is missing by the end of it.

And now for the bad news...

Unfortunately, not everything was beer and skittles for the Twins this offseason. In February, it came out that “ace” starter Ervin Santana needed surgery on his middle finger, and would miss at least the first month of the season — and that’s the best of the bad news.

Two of the young, promising players in the Twins’ lineup were involved in embarrassing incidents that will, or likely will, lead to suspensions. The first involves third baseman Miguel Sano. Last December, an incident from several years ago involving Sano assaulting a young female photographer came to light. MLB conducted an investigation into the incident, and although no suspension has been announced as of yet, many feel one is coming. It would likely not be longer than a couple weeks at most, but in any case, it is a highly disappointing thing to learn about the All-Star third baseman.

The second incident is a bit more settled. It’s an 80-game suspension, and it’s for Jorge Polanco. Yes, he tested positive for PEDs. He also won’t be able to take part in the postseason, should the Twins make it that far. So now the Twins are once again scrambling for an Opening Day shortstop, as it feels they have been for practically a decade. At this point it sounds like they will go with in-house, veteran options Eduardo Escobar, Ehire Adrianza, and/or Erick Aybar, who they signed to a minor league deal this winter.

Where does that leave the Twins in 2018?

Had the Twins actually stopped adding after signing Rodney, Pineda, and Duke, they’d be swimming in the Mississippi outside of a hot sewage plant right now. Luckily, they didn’t stop there. Despite the temporary losses of Santana, Sano, and Polanco, the Twins added enough to still look competitive for 2018.

The lineup, at least to start the season, should look something like this:

  1. Brian Dozier
  2. Joe Mauer
  3. Miguel Sano (?)
  4. Eddie Rosario
  5. Logan Morrison
  6. Byron Buxton
  7. Max Kepler
  8. Eduardo Escobar
  9. Jason Castro

That’s... not too shabby. It certainly misses Polanco, but the addition of Morrison helps make up for for the loss.

Meanwhile, the rotation will probably look something like this:

  1. Jose Berrios
  2. Lance Lynn
  3. Jake Odorizzi
  4. Kyle Gibson
  5. Ummm.... Phil Hughes?

There are a lot of mid-to-back of the rotation guys in there, but let’s use the power of positive thinking here: they are legitimate major league pitchers (and Hughes)! It’s certainly better than having to rely on guys like Hector Santiago and Adalberto Mejia, as the Twins did to start off the season last year (no offense to Mejia, who will probably see time back up with the big league team in 2018). Heck, the team might even be able to get away with not having a fifth starter at all for the first few weeks of the season, so that Hughes thing might not be that big of a deal?

The Twins also have reinforcements coming, should the need arise. Ervin Santana should be returning sometime in May, and Trevor May — who had Tommy John surgery last March — should return in June. May had previously been in the bullpen, but the plan (as of now) is for him to get back into starting. The Twins also have their two top pitching prospects knocking on the door: Stephen Gonsalves, and Fernando Romero. They should be making their debuts at some point in 2018 as well.

As far as the bullpen? It’ll probably look something like this:

  1. Fernando Rodney
  2. Addison Reed
  3. Zach Duke
  4. Trevor Hildenberger
  5. Ryan Pressly
  6. Taylor Rogers
  7. Tyler Kinley (Rule 5 draft pick)
  8. Tyler Duffey (though he may move back to a starting role)

That’s definitely better than last year’s bullpen, which saw the closing role split between not-bad-but-not-really-closers Brandon Kintzler and Matt Belisle. The Twins also have depth in the minors with the likes of Alan Busenitz, Gabriel Moya, John Curtiss, and Jake Reed, among others. (Prospects Nick Burdi and Luke Bard were lost in the Rule 5 draft, while J.T. Chargois was claimed off waivers by the Dodgers, for those of you wondering.)

How far will the Twins go?

The 2018 Twins might not have a lot of household names, or anyone who is going to win the Cy Young, but make no mistake: this is a solid, young, and exceptionally talented team. They did nothing but improve this offseason — besides, perhaps, losing Jorge Polanco for half the season and Ervin Santana for one month. The only free agents they lost were Matt Belisle, Bartolo Colon, and backup catcher Chris Gimenez, but they added a whole lot more to make up for them.

Meanwhile, have you looked at the rest of the AL Central? They basically did nothing. The Tigers, Royals, and White Sox are all teams in various stages of rebuild, and don’t seem to pose a threat to team fielded by highly-trained Golden Retrievers, much less one by professional baseball players. The Indians are still there, sure — but what did they do this offseason? They lost Carlos Santana and Bryan Shaw, that’s what. They added nothing of significance, making for a net loss.

Think back to the 2017 season for a second. Yes, the Indians won a record-tying 22 games straight, but remember earlier in the season? The Twins surprised everyone be being first place in the division for months. If every other team in the division has gotten worse (or wasn’t much to begin with), and the Twins just added more players... Heck, most of the young players the Twins already had are even just now hitting their prime. This is a team that will contend for years.

Are the Indians still a good team now? Of course. Are they still everyone’s favorite to win the AL Central this year? Yep. Should the Indians be everyone’s favorite to win the AL Central? No.