The Minnesota Twins have been a massive disappointment over each of the last two seasons. But that doesn’t mean they can’t bounce back in relatively short order.
On the heels of back-to-back division titles in 2019 and 2020, the Twins entered 2021 as the A.L. Central favorites. But they laid an egg, winning just 73 games and finishing in dead last. In 2022, the Twins were largely thought to be the second-best team in the division but raised expectations after signing Carlos Correa and getting several weeks of a healthy Byron Buxton. It all added up to a hot start, only to see Rocco Baldelli’s club fall apart and finish with only 78 wins.
Still, the shell of a solid team exists. Even while the 2022 edition was flawed, the core of a .500 club was there; their Pythagorean win-loss record of 82-80 tells the story of some bad luck (read: an ungodly number of blame-the-bullpen collapses and poor baserunning) that should bounce back, at least to some extent.
What does all of this mean? Primarily, the Twins could be right back in contention in the division with a few moves.
Let’s talk about what needs to be prioritized in terms of adding talent from outside the organization.
This is the obvious one. Thankfully, the Twins did themselves a favor by swooping in to sign Carlos Correa at the 11th hour last year, and now have at least a legitimate chance at re-signing the two-time All-Star. Correa enjoyed his time in Minnesota, and there is no shortage of quotes out there of Twins teammates, coaches, front-office members, and owners extolling the virtues of having Correa in the clubhouse and on the field.
It’s because of Correa that the Twins are also considered to be potential suitors for the rest of the shortstop class. Xander Bogaerts is the name most often mentioned as an alternate possibility for the Twins, but they could theoretically be in on Dansby Swanson or Trea Turner.
While they’ve traded for Kyle Farmer, who may manage to be a solidly-average stop-gap at shortstop while waiting for Royce Lewis’ recovery from knee surgery, the Twins are unlikely to win the division with Farmer as their starting shortstop. Farmer is a fine player, but will be best cast as a platoon option at third base and, at times, short. He isn’t an everyday shortstop for a winning club.
Adding Correa (or another top-flight shortstop) will obviously raise the Twins’ overall talent ceiling, but also initiate a trickle-down effect that will allow Farmer, among others, to play their ideal role.
2. Starting pitching
There’s an argument to be made for catcher in this slot, but I’ll stand firm in saying that the Twins need more starting pitching.
Sonny Gray is fine as a No. 2 on a contending team, at least to start the season. Joe Ryan is a mid-rotation starter on a good team as well. Clearly, the Twins think that Tyler Mahle should be a mid-rotation guy, but at the very least, he’s a fit on the back end.
That leaves Kenta Maeda in his return, but it’s unclear how many innings he’ll be able to ramp up to. Josh Winder should have a role, too.
I actually think the spots from No. 2 to No. 8 or so in the “rotation extended”, if you will, are in a decent spot. But there’s nobody that is currently a No. 1 option, and the Twins simply need more top-level talent on the mound in order to seriously compete. There’s always the possibility of a deal at the deadline, but being able to add a top-flight starter in the offseason is obviously the preferred route.
Ryan Jeffers is a fine part-time catcher. He’s good enough defensively, and there is some legitimate pop in the bat if he can find any level of consistency. The Twins really just need another part-time catcher, and there are plenty on the market.
It would be a surprise if the Twins sprung for the likes of Willson Contreras, but there are other options that won’t cost as much.
Adding reliever talent via free agency is always a bit dicey, but I’m not about to argue that the Twins don’t need to improve their bullpen.
There are some names that may have been realistic options already off the market and I wouldn’t expect the Twins to break the bank on a relief pitcher (nor should they), but an arm or two absolutely must be added.
5. Corner Outfield
I’m less concerned about the Twins’ corner outfield position than most. Minnesota has had terrible injury luck with Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach, as well as platoon option Kyle Garlick. At some point, that luck has to bounce back in the other direction. Matt Wallner got his first taste of the big leagues last year, too.
Still, adding some outfield corner depth would be beneficial, and would also shore up options at designated hitter. If the Twins aren’t able to spend money elsewhere, there’s always the option of spending to some level here and trading some of the talent already on the roster.
Beyond Max Kepler, who likely has only marginally positive trade value, all of the aforementioned, relatively unproven young talents could all fetch a return (pitching?) on the trade market. The Twins could make a J.D. Martinez-sized splash, or they could spend less on a player like Mitch Haniger and still trade Kepler.
At any rate, I’d certainly rank pitching, catcher, and shortstop ahead of the corner outfield need.
There are plenty of directions the Twins could go with this offseason. With very little in guaranteed money committed, anything could happen.