Growing up, one of my family’s annual traditions was a New Years Eve Risk game. For quite a few years, the contest played out in a predictable fashion: players would be very conservative, wait as long as possible to turn in card combinations for more troops, and then load up for a final board-wiping run when the time seemed right.
Somewhere along the line, however, one of my brothers decided to shake things up. He traded the conservativeness for aggression, looking to improve his position on the board whenever and wherever possible no matter if he seemed primed for a big attacking surge or not. While not always guaranteed a world-dominating victory, of course, he seemingly always put himself in the calculus of the endgame.
Two years ago, despite a disappointing end to the 2018 season, it was pretty clear even at that time that the Minnesota Twins possessed talent within the overall organization. One key weakness? The lack of a true pitching ace. Shrewd pickup of Jake Odorizzi notwithstanding, that area of need was not addressed before the ‘19 season began. At the time, the main reason for not being more aggressive was Falvey & Levine basically wanting to see if the squad would shake out favorably (and thus be worth the investment).
101 wins and a playoff appearance later, one could answer that question squarely in the affirmative. Sadly, the lack of acquiring an impact starting pitcher before the playoffs saw Randy Dobnak start a postseason contest at Yankee Stadium. With all due respect to he of the immaculate ‘stache, that’s not a scenario I’d like to see repeated.
Coming into this off season, it seemed like The Falvine was finally ready to pull the trigger. The team was decidedly competitive, the division seemed ours for the taking, the payroll was about as wide open as possible under Pohlad ownership, and there was a bumper crop of arms to be had. The result? Homer Bailey and Rich Hill. Yeesh. While both moves make sense for the team as a whole, it’s certainly a far cry from someone that inspires confidence on a playoff mound.
So what happened? In an off season with the Twins seemingly loaded for bear, why did they come away empty-handed? In short, another old phrase is instructive: “it takes two to tango”. Essentially, all the big fish were tempted by other bait...
-Gerrit Cole grew up a Yankees fan and couldn’t/wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to head home.
-Stephen Strasburg just won a ring for the only team he ever pitched for, so a reunion was the logical choice.
-Zack Wheeler turned down higher-dollar offers to stay on the East Coast (he’s now a Phillie).
-Madison Bumgarner essentially signed himself up to pitch for the Diamondbacks in order to be near his horse ranch.
That left Cole Hamels and Hyun Jin Ryu as potential starting pitching upgrades, but no deal could be reached with either of those parties. Thus, as of this writing, the Twins find themselves in about the same starting pitching spot as last off season: a few #2/#3 caliber starters, a few hopeful prospects, and a few castoffs who might be salvageable.
In a general sense, I don’t want to trash Falvey & Levine’s overall leadership. They’ve modernized this franchise tremendously in a short amount of time, made shrewd deals with eyes toward winning, and re-stocked a farm system cupboard that had gotten pretty bare. On the whole, I am quite pleased with their “regime”, if you will.
However, in baseball (as in life or world-domination board games), nothing ever goes exactly according to plan. As such, you have to be willing to improvise, adapt, and perhaps even take a calculated risk (pun intended) from time to time. If you wait until all your own ducks are in a row, it may be too late. Going forward, I hope this is a lesson that Twins management will keep in the back of their minds.
Perhaps this team will swing a big trade, Jose Berrios will become a true ace, or youngsters like Dobnak, Thorpe, Smeltzer, & Graterol become superstars and make the point moot. But as of right now, it feels a little like the Twins showed up “fashionably late” to the (free agent) party and realized that no amount of preening could change the fact that all the couples had already paired off in their absence.