There has been a lot wrong with this Twins seasons, and there is no doubt about that. The Twins won today, snapping a 5 game losing streak, putting the final, final nail in the coffin on their post season hopes, and bringing into question whether or not they will bother with 2022. Jose Berrios might be the most talked about player at the trade deadline this month.
The previously glowing impression of the front office and Rocco Baldelli has been tarnished, and to some varying degree, public opinion has turned on the both. I won’t spend time on Baldelli, simply because I had much more involved and persistent complaints about his predecessors. I don’t think he is the variable that changes anything if he were someone else.
That puts the onus for the season, in some minds, on the front office. You know that my opinion is that much of the issue with this season has been bad luck. A series of tough losses early, followed by a succession of injuries made it tough for Minnesota to ever pull out of their tailspin. My opinion that may not reach much acclaim, is that the situation would be much more dire if not for the prudence and competence of the front office.
The criticism of the front office has fallen into three buckets. The first is that the players they gave extensions to are not carrying their weight this year. The second is that the free agents they have signed have flopped this year. The third is that the organization has failed to develop the starting pitching that this front office was supposed to be good at developing.
The Twins, like any team in baseball, know that the only way to sustained success is to develop a solid core from within. The Twins, especially after 2019, thought they had that core, and set out to lock up some of the best performers to team friendly deals. Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco and Miguel Sano agreed to be Twins for longer than their arbitration years.
Polanco continues to be an above average middle infielder, but Kepler and Sano have regressed. Kepler is still good in the field, but Sano seems only to have power as a skill, and then, it is only accessible in brief moments. While this group was supposed to be the group the Twins were to build around, they didn’t leave much to build around.
The Twins, obviously looking at the last two seasons, thought they would contend this season. They didn’t make the big free agent investments in 2020 that many fans wanted, but they still had Josh Donaldson to point to. They weren’t cheap, the right names just weren’t coming to Minnesota. The wrong names certainly were coming to town, though. Alex Colomé, Matt Shoemaker, and J.A. Happ have been roundly disappointing.
The important thing to note, though, is that none of the deals above are long term issues. None will be albatrosses that hold the team back in future years. The team friendly extensions were meant to allow the Twins to add help at the deadline if they needed it, or in the offseason if they could find it. The free agents were signed to one year deals, and will be gone after this year. There is no fiscal burden on 2022, even taking into account Donaldson’s salary.
That takes us to the pitching. I think it is a stark concern, given that the Twins seemed like they were within a window of playoff contention that was rapidly closing, but the development is happening, and the methodology that Cleveland used under Derek Falvey seems to be working in Minnesota as well.
Under Falvey, the Twins have spent their high picks on position players, who are currently breaking into the majors, and augmented their prospect pool by trading assets for young players. The internally developed prospects were drafted in the later rounds. Presently, the Twins outfield of the future (Trevor Larnach, Gilberto Celestino and Alex Kirilloff) were either drafted in the first round by the Twins, or were acquired via a trade – Celestino from the Astros for Ryan Pressley.
The top prospects in the organization, for the first time in a while, include some starting pitchers. Jordan Balazovic and Matt Caterino were Falvey draft picks. Jhoan Duran was acquired for Eduardo Escobar. All three could appear on the Twins roster in the next few years. A sell off in the next month could serve to buffet the developing prospect pool that is already in place.
The Twins have another rapidly emerging core. Kirilloff, Larnach and Luis Arraez are already here, with some pitching help coming behind them. The Twins are in a good position to rebound quickly from this bad season. That suggests competence from the front office, even if 2021 shakes our faith.