The Minnesota Twins led the A.L. Central Division for 108 days last season. They were in first place by five games on June 1, four-and-a-half games in mid-July, and even managed to be tied for the top spot as late as September 4.
A combination of bullpen implosions and bad injury luck was primarily responsible for the Twins’ late-season collapse, which somehow felt inevitable and shocking at the same time.
Sitting here in late January, only a few weeks away from the start of spring training, the Twins’ roster is head-and-shoulders above where it sat 12 months ago — or at any point during the 2022 campaign.
Let’s break it down.
The Twins still have their best two players from last year in the fold in Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton. (Of course, if we wanted to look at this as exactly 12 months ago, Correa wasn’t even on the team yet, making the gap even greater.)
Opening Day starters Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, and Alex Kirilloff are all still on the roster and projected to start the year in the lineup, although Kirilloff will replace Miguel Sano at first base and it’s not unreasonable to think that Kepler could still be moved.
At catcher, Ryan Jeffers has been bumped to the backup role behind newcomer Christian Vázquez. That’s a big upgrade over the Gary Sanchez/Jeffers timeshare.
Gio Urshela was solid last year and is arguably a better all-around player than likely Opening Day 2023 starter Juan Miranda at the moment, at least in a vacuum. But Miranda has far greater offensive upside and is much, much more affordable with several years of team control ahead.
The designated hitter role is still something of a question mark, but it’s hard to see how a rotation of Kirilloff, Miranda, Buxton, and Trevor Larnach won’t be better than Jeffers, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Arráez.
Oh, and the Twins added Joey Gallo, an above-average outfield defender and an all-or-nothing bat that could add what Sano was supposed to provide last year at the plate.
Yes, losing Arráez will hurt, but he was quickly becoming a defensive liability best cast as a first baseman or contact-focused DH. Long-term, the Twins are better served rotating through any number of hitters with power and upside at that spot.
The bench is improved, with Kyle Farmer taking over the top utility spot, Jeffers sliding into a primary backup role instead of being miscast as a 50-50 starter, and both Gilberto Celestino and Nick Gordon with essentially a full big-league season under their belts.
Out: Sano, Sanchez, Urshela, Arráez
In: Miranda, Vazquez, Gallo, Larnach, Farmer
This one is straightforward.
Fringe fifth-starters Dylan Bundy and Chris Archer are gone. Pablo López and Tyler Mahle are in, and both are legitimate front-mid rotation pieces. That change alone is worth at least a couple of wins, if not more.
Add in whatever a healthy Kenta Maeda is able to provide, plus Josh Winder with MLB experience under his belt and a healthy Bailey Ober, and we’re looking at the Twins’ best rotation in several years in terms of not only depth, but quality depth.
Out: Bundy, Archer
In: Lopez, Mahle, Maeda
This is the area that still needs the most attention.
Twelve months ago, Taylor Rogers was still on the roster. He’s been replaced by Emilio Pagán and Jorge López, neither of whom was as good last year as Rogers had been for the last several years in a Twins uniform. Still, from a stuff perspective — and if some of the peripherals are to be believed — there is far more upside with both Pagan and López.
Jhoan Duran is one of the best relievers in baseball and will start the season in a much more prominent role than he did last year. Griffin Jax had something of a breakout season as a reliable reliever last year. Jorge Alcala should be healthy and has upside.
The bullpen could use one more steady, proven piece. At this stage, it feels more likely that such an addition could come at the trade deadline instead of prior to the start of the regular season. Then again, the Rogers-Pagan/Chris Paddack deal came during the final week of spring training last year.
Out: Tyler Duffey, Joe Smith
In: López, Alcala (larger Duran role, Jax on Opening Day roster)
A blockbuster for a true ace starting pitcher isn’t coming any time soon, and that’s okay. As currently constructed, this starting rotation can win the division with reasonable health.
Even after dealing Arraez, the Twins still have a surplus of several lefthanded corner outfield/infield bats: Gallo, Kirilloff, Kepler, Larnach, plus prospect Matt Wallner and utilityman Nick Gordon, the latter of whom can also play up the middle of the diamond in a pinch but played in left field more than anywhere else last year.
The Twins could deal from that strength to add bullpen help, or potentially to balance the roster a bit with a righthanded platoon option at first base or corner outfield; Farmer and Miranda are the only righthanded bats on the 40-man roster who primarily play on the corners.
Expect another addition or two yet this offseason, whether via the free agency bargain bin or the trade market. But either way, the Twins’ top-to-bottom roster is easily in its best spot in well over a year.