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Checking in on the status of the Minnesota Twins’ rotation

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In case you hadn’t heard, the Minnesota Twins have been relatively quiet this winter

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals
Could a healthy Jake Odorizzi be the (admittedly boring) rotation upgrade the Twins need?
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

A little more than a year ago, the Minnesota Twins’ starting rotation consisted of Jose Berrios and ... that was about it.

Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda, Kyle Gibson, and Martin Perez were all poised to hit free agency. The Twins had just started Randy Dobnak in Game 2 of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium, and as much as everyone loves the Dobber, it wasn’t ideal for a guy who started the year in A-ball.

The Twins were fortunate when Odorizzi accepted the qualifying offer and returned, hoping to bolster his value. Then, they re-signed Pineda, traded for Kenta Maeda, and signed Rich Hill and Homer Bailey. Along with Dobnak and spot-start options Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe, the Twins actually had more rotation depth than they knew what to do with.

Indeed, Minnesota’s starting rotation was one of the better units in the league, led by Maeda’s Cy Young runner-up performance, even if it was a bit unsettled. Pineda was suspended for the first few weeks, Hill and Bailey both struggled with injuries, and Odorizzi had an almost entirely lost season due to mostly flukey injuries. Berrios struggled early but was great down the stretch, and Dobnak did the exact opposite.

With much of the offseason in the books, the Twins still sit with Maeda and Berrios in ink as a legit 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. Pineda is penciled in at No. 3, and he’s been consistently solid since the middle of the 2019 campaign.

While there aren’t that many top-tier starters on the free agent market, the Twins haven’t made any noise on the trade front, either, and watched their bullpen take on water with the departures of Trevor May and Matt Wisler and Sergio Romo and Tyler Clippard still free agents.

Resetting the SP free agent market

The Twins reportedly made an offer to Corey Kluber, who was overpaid to the tune of $11 million by the New York Yankees. Shortly after the Kluber deal was announced, the Twins spent $8 million on former Yankee J.A. Happ to slot into the Twins’ No. 4 rotation spot.

So, here’s where the rotation stands as of today:

  1. Kenta Maeda
  2. Jose Berrios
  3. Michael Pineda
  4. J.A. Happ

Options for the No. 5 spot include Dobnak, Thorpe, and Smeltzer, with prospects Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran knocking on different parts of the proverbial door.

The above is a good, but not great, rotation. Jake Odorizzi is better than Happ, and a healthy Odorizzi is better than Pineda, too. In other words, the rotation has downgraded, pending the debuts of a pair of promising prospects.

Additionally, Minnesota hasn’t been rumored to be in on many other free agents, from the market’s top option in Trevor Bauer down through the Adam Wainwrights and Taijuan Walkers of the world, who offer varying levels of upside. Early on, the Twins were reportedly interested in Charlie Morton, who signed with the Atlanta Braves; he would have fit solidly in between the Bauer and Walker levels of the spectrum.

Darren Wolfson reports that Odorizzi is “still wanted” by the Twins; unfortunately for the front office, he remains one of the most attractive remaining options on the free agent market, so he won’t come without competition.

Still, the Twins have the opportunity to improve their rotation over what was an impressive group just last year. Remember, this was a team with the fifth-best starter’s ERA in the entire league and ranked 11th in xFIP, the latter of which examines a pitcher’s expected run prevention while removing the impact of the defense behind them. It wasn’t exactly a bad rotation.

It’s important to note that Odorizzi’s injuries were a minor back strain, a bruised rib cage after being hit by a batted ball, and a blister. We’re not talking about major, career-altering ailments. It’s plausible to expect him to return to something resembling his 2019 form.

If Odo comes back, the below rotation would be even better than last year’s:

  1. Kenta Maeda
  2. Jose Berrios
  3. Jake Odorizzi
  4. Michael Pineda
  5. J.A. Happ

Dobnak, Smeltzer, and Thorpe aren’t bad options as spot-starters, and it’s fair to expect the Twins to bring in another veteran or two for some competition and insurance.

So, no. There’s no Bauer. There’s no Morton. There isn’t even an aging Kluber, or a buy-low signing like Chris Archer. It could still come, sure, but at this point, swapping Homer Bailey/Rich Hill for Happ and retaining a healthy Odorizzi would still be palatable.

No, it may not actively move the needle, but it would keep the needle from moving in the wrong direction. And that’s just as important.