Every winter, the Twins are expected to be active. When they aren’t very good, they might trade away some assets. When they are good, they are exhorted to make a move to push the team over the top. Failure after failure in the post season has a tendency to elevate expectations.
Recent iterations of the Twins offseason has them operating with a huge payroll, ready to pounce on the open market and make some big moves, which further drive up fan expectations, but to no avail. With the combination of a good year and ample payroll space, this season seems, perhaps, even more obviously, a candidate for a roster overhaul, or at the very least, an update.
The Twins also had holes to fill. They had only 1 returning starting pitcher to start the offseason, but they brought back the two best pitchers that were scheduled to depart in Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda. In the meantime, they still had ample cash to spread around to another big name starter.
The Twins also saw Mitch Garver emerge as a stud at the plate, especially as a catcher. Jason Castro was a free agent, but since he was no longer going to start in Minnesota, he was deemed expendable. The Twins still did need a serviceable backstop to pair with Garver. They signed Alex Avila to a reasonable deal, which left plenty of payroll space available.
Additionally, the Twins determined that they could withstand additional changes to the rest of the offensive roster. CJ Cron and Jonathan Schoop were let go. Cron is in the awkward part of his career where he is making more money through arbitration than his production for his position would dictate. Corner infielders that can hit are a dime a dozen. Schoop was supplanted by the emergence of Luis Arraez. The Twins can upgrade the infield with a corner infielder of any type, and Miguel Sano could play the opposite corner. They have the resources to make it happen.
The Twins first went after starting pitcher after starting pitcher. Zach Wheeler preferred the east coast. Madison Bumgarner preferred his horses. Hyun Jin Ryu preferred… well, we’re not sure about anything, there. The Twins were interested, but they weren’t able to seal the deal with any of those players.
After the top tier pitchers were off the board (there was never any smoke between the Twins and Dallas Keuchel, for whatever reason, and Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole commanded a completely untenable sum), they turned their attention to the top name left on the board in any position, Josh Donaldson. Despite what some sources have said, it appears unlikely that the Twins will be his new team.
The free agent market is drying up, and the Twins haven’t really made an impression. They made sure that the positions they needed to fill – the rotation – were filled, by signing veterans Homer Bailey and Rich Hill. Bailey is viewed as uninspiring, while Hill will be out through the first part of the season. They are cheaper options that Kyle Gibson and Martin Perez, though, which also means they will be easier to get away from if a better option comes along.
It’s also not hard to see Bailey and Hill as sneaky signings. Remember, the Twins won 101 games last year, and their leading challenger – the Indians – got worse, and the White Sox didn’t suddenly get good, just less bad. Bailey will eat innings, and unlike Perez, started slow and finished strong. Hill has been very effective when healthy, and has a ton of postseason experience.
The winter has thus far seemed to be bumbling, but ultimately, I don’t think it is. They haven’t been inactive. The reports of their failure to sign the big names is because they were actively trying to make those moves. That hasn’t always been the case. They currently have a fully assembled Major League roster. They don’t really have any holes, but they could certainly be improved in some spots.
The Twins organization has two things going for it. First, is the commitment to internal development, that has been jump started and improved since the arrival of the current administration. If you look at the success of AL Central teams in the postseason in recent years, it is predominantly rooted in their ability to develop from within. The Twins are doing that. Second, they have a penchant for asset accumulation if the price is right. In each of the last two seasons, the Twins snagged a bunch of players late in the offseason, with varied success. There is still a lot of time, and there are many free agents still available, and if the Twins hold to form, there could still be a surprise around the corner.