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Starting Pitching... Starting Over?

The Twins have some large decisions behind Pablo Lopez

Star Tribune/Aaron Lavinsky

For the first time in what seems like (or might be) decades, the Minnesota Twins featured a formidable starting pitching rotation in 2023. New addition Pablo Lopez blossomed into an ace, Sonny Gray had a career year, and the Twins got major contributions from the likes of Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober. As the old adage goes, however, all good things must come to an end. For the Twins, they have some major decisions to make sure that end doesn’t come after just one season.

Below we will break down who is likely returning, who might be leaving, and who might be available. The age we will use for each player is his age on June 1st of 2024, bWAR is his Baseball Reference WAR (wins above replacement), and fWAR is his Fangraphs WAR.


AP Photo/Abbie Parr

Here are the members of the Twins’ starting staff that will be returning next season, barring a trade or a release.

Pablo Lopez
2024 Age: 28
Contract: 4 years, $73.5M (signed through 2027)
2023 bWAR: 3.3
2023 fWAR: 4.5
Notes: After coming to the Twins in the Luis Arraez trade, Lopez added a sweeper to his repertoire to establish himself as a frontline pitcher. After two dominant postseason starts, Lopez is on his way to be the best starting pitcher for the Twins since Johan Santana, which would make his extension look like a steal for the Twins.

Joe Ryan
2024 Age: 28
Contract: Will not hit arbitration until 2025, eligible for free agency in 2028
2023 bWAR: 1.2
2023 fWAR: 2.2
Notes: The main piece in a deadline deal that sent Nelson Cruz to Tampa Bay, Ryan has mostly looked the part of a rotation mainstay for the Twins. He fell victim to an alarming number of homeruns in the second half of 2023, however, which the Twins hope he can clean up moving forward.

Bailey Ober
2024 Age: 28
Contract: Will not hit arbitration until 2025, eligible for free agency in 2028
2023 bWAR: 3.0
2023 fWAR: 2.4
Notes: Ober may have been the unsung hero of the rotation, emerging from Triple-A to take a rotation spot due to injuries. He had a good season overall, but somewhat faltered down the stretch, possibly due to throwing 60 more innings than he had ever thrown previously. Ober will be counted to return to his form from the first half of 2023, in a similar fashion to Joe Ryan.

Chris Paddack
2024 Age: 28
Contract: 3 years, $12.53M (signed through 2025)
2023 bWAR: 0.0
2023 fWAR: 0.1
Notes: Returning from his second Tommy John procedure, Paddack made a handful of appearances for St. Paul and the Twins out of the bullpen. Paddack looked dominant in his outings, unleashing a high-90s fastball that he had not previously featured. It remains to be seen whether the Twins will move him back to the rotation, but all signs point to that being the goal. Even upon returning to the rotation, it is highly unlikely Paddack approaches 30 starts or 200 innings.

Louie Varland
2024 Age: 26
Contract: Will not hit arbitration until 2026, eligible for free agency in 2029
2023 bWAR: 0.5
2023 fWAR: 0.1
Notes: Varland, like Ober, was thrust into the early-season rotation due to injury. Varland had up-and-down results in the rotation and was sent to Triple-A for a large portion of the season. After starting for awhile in St. Paul, Varland was moved to the bullpen. In a similar fashion to Paddack, Varland would rejoin the Twins throwing high-90s gas that was previously not evident. It will be interesting to see if the Twins view Varland as starter for the long term or a potential high-leverage reliever.

Josh Winder
2024 Age: 27
Contract: Will not hit arbitration until 2026, eligible for free agency in 2029
2023 bWAR: 0.3
2023 fWAR: 0.1
Notes: Due to injuries and inconsistency, Winder has become sort of an afterthought for the Twins’ rotation. He made a handful of relief appearances for the Twins in 2023, but he was mostly used in low-leverage situations. Winder will have to try and establish his role in 2024, but he presents an intriguing option if he is able to stay healthy and refine his repertoire.

Simeon Woods-Richardson
2024 Age: 23
Contract: Will not hit arbitration until 2026, eligible for free agency in 2029
2023 bWAR: -0.1
2023 fWAR: 0.0
Notes: A key piece of the Jose Berrios trade, Woods-Richardson has yet to meet the high potential that the Twins were envisioning when they acquired him. He uses a four-pitch mix to attack batters, but his velocity has averaged around 91 MPH. He had a horrific first half for the Saints last year, but rallied to end with an ERA below 5. Woods-Richardson is still young for the level and has time to grow, but he will have to display consistency and an increased ability to strikeout hitters in order to make the Twins.

Randy Dobnak
2024 Age: 29
Contract: 2 years, $5.5M remaining on contract through 2025, team options for 2026-28
2023 bWAR: N/A
2023 fWAR: N/A
Notes: We just can’t quit our favorite Uber driver. Dobnak started a playoff game in Yankee Stadium in 2019, but as of 2023, he looks like a longshot depth piece in St. Paul. He posted an ERA over 5 for the Saints in 2023, and it seems as though it will take a lot of moving pieces for Dobnak to see the field for the Twins in 2024.


AP Photo/Abbie Parr

Here are the members of the Twins’ starting staff in 2023 that will be pending free agents.

Sonny Gray
2024 Age: 34
2023 bWAR: 5.3
2023 fWAR: 5.3
Notes: Gray had arguably the best season of his career, posting a 2.79 ERA over 184 innings. He will likely be a finalist for the AL Cy Young Award going into his free agency, which is impeccable timing for a veteran pitcher looking for another big contract. Spotrac projects Gray for a 3-year, $66M contract in the offseason, a contract that is very much in the Twins’ wheelhouse if they would like Gray back. The Twins will certainly offer Gray a qualifying offer, so they will receive draft compensation if he leaves, at the very least.

Tyler Mahle
2024 Age: 29
2023 bWAR: 0.5
2023 fWAR: 0.4
Notes: Mahle has quickly become the trivia answer to the wrong part of a trade-deadline deal in 2022, as Spencer Steer and Christian Encarnacion-Strand have become linchpins for the Cincinnati offense. His career with the Twins prior to free agency has been marred with injury, including an injury in May that led to Tommy John surgery. It remains to be seen when Mahle will return to throwing, but a two-year contract similar to the one Michael Pineda got with the Twins would make some sense. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Twins try to salvage the trade they made with a buy-low sort of contract. They certainly will not be offering a qualifying offer.

Kenta Maeda
2024 Age: 36
2023 bWAR: 1.1
2023 fWAR: 1.5
Notes: Maeda returned from a Tommy John surgery of his own in 2023 and had some glimpses of the pitcher that finished second in the Cy Young voting in 2020. He dealt with some injuries throughout 2023, making 21 appearances on the season. There will no doubt be some suitors for Maeda, likely on a shorter contract. The Twins have to decide not only if they will want Maeda back, but also if they will extend him a qualifying offer (around $20.5M), which he may be inclined to accept.

Dallas Keuchel
2024 Age: 36
2023 bWAR: -0.1
2023 fWAR: 0.1
Notes: The Twins signed Keuchel to a minor-league deal in the heart of their season, with hopes the former Cy Young winner would make his way back to the big leagues. Keuchel did just that, providing the Twins with some volatile innings down the stretch. His results were a mixed bag, which is to be expected from an aging lefty throwing in the high-80s. Keuchel will likely be seeking a major-league deal for 2024, but it is likely he will once again wait out a minor-league deal.


AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Here are some of the top potential free agent options hitting the market this winter.

Shohei Ohtani
2024 Age: 29
2023 bWAR: 10.0
2023 fWAR: 9.0
Notes: Won’t spend a lot of time here, the Twins have less of a chance to sign Ohtani than Lloyd Christmas had with Mary Swanson.

Blake Snell
2024 Age: 31
2023 bWAR: 6.0
2023 fWAR: 4.1
Notes: Coming off of what will likely be his second Cy Young Award, Snell will likely command a large contract, as well as a qualifying offer from the Padres. Spotrac projects Snell to receive a 5-year, $115M contract in free agency, so it will require a large sum of money and loss of draft pick capital to acquire him. If you can bank on him returning to his Cy Young form, it is probably worth the gamble, but I’m not sure if that will be the Twins’ approach.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto
2024 Age: 25
2023 bWAR: N/A
2023 fWAR: N/A
Notes: Yamamoto is the next pitching phenom to follow the path of the likes of Ohtani, Masahiro Tanaka, Yu Darvish, and Daisuke Matsuzaka. His path will be different, however, as he has waited until his age-25 season to be posted in America and will avoid the international free agent limitations to be a true free agent. He posted ridiculous numbers in Japan, including a 1.21 ERA in 2023. He is projected by Spotrac for a 5-year, $85M deal and he will certainly have teams lining up to sign him.

Aaron Nola
2024 Age: 30
2023 bWAR: 2.1
2023 fWAR: 3.9
Notes: Nola had somewhat of a subpar season for his standards in 2023, posting an ERA of 4.46. In October, however, Nola has looked like the guy that many have considered a top-of-the-rotation arm. Spotrac projects Nola for a 6-year, $140M contract in free agency and he is certain to get a qualifying offer from the Phillies. This would be a long shot for the Twins, but maybe worth a shot.

Marcus Stroman
2024 Age: 33
2023 bWAR: 1.6
2023 fWAR: 2.8
Notes: Stroman holds a $21M player option with the Cubs and it will be interesting to see if he even reaches free agency. After a blistering start to 2023, Stroman somewhat cooled off the rest of the season. It will be a difficult decision for Stroman to balance the $21M remaining versus what he may command on the open market. There’s a chance Stroman will bet on himself for the next free agency period and exercise his player option.

Charlie Morton
2024 Age: 40
2023 bWAR: 3.1
2023 fWAR: 2.7
Notes: Atlanta holds a $20M club option they can exercise for Morton, and it would be a mild surprise if they let him hit free agency. Morton is showing no signs of slowing down, making 30 starts to a tune of a 3.64 ERA for the Braves in 2023.

Clayton Kershaw
2024 Age: 36
2023 bWAR: 3.7
2023 fWAR: 2.3
Notes: We will keep this one brief. Kershaw is still really, really good, the Dodgers are still really, really, rich, and they both would really, really, like to reunite for another season.

Eduardo Rodriguez
2024 Age: 31
2023 bWAR: 3.5
2024 fWAR: 3.0
Notes: After two tumultuous seasons with Detroit, Rodriguez had another tumultuous season, but was able to return to form in his third season with the Tigers. After vetoing a trade to the Dodgers at the deadline, all signs point to Rodriguez opting out of the remaining 3 years and $49M remaining on his contract in order to hit free agency. The Tigers will certainly extend him a qualifying offer and he will likely have many suitors.

Jordan Montgomery
2024 Age: 31
2023 bWAR: 4.1
2023 fWAR: 4.3
Notes: Montgomery has had an excellent 2023, as he posted an ERA of 3.20 in time with both the Cardinals and the Rangers. He has continued that excellence into the playoffs, including solving the impossible puzzle that is Yordan Alvarez. Montgomery will fetch a large contract in free agency, as Spotrac projects him for a 6-year, $110M contract in the offseason.

Some Other Pending Free Agents: Lucas Giolito, Jack Flaherty, Kyle Gibson, James Paxton, Michael Lorenzen, Luis Severino, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Martin Perez, Frankie Montas

Will the Twins bring back Sonny Gray? Will the Twins make a big splash in free agency? Will they stand pat and throw a one-year deal at an aging veteran? Stay tuned.