From what we've seen so far, The National League is poised to be a collection of powerhouses and doormats in 2016, as the Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, and Diamondbacks, have all positioned themselves to get much better, while the Cardinals and Pirates (who were both excellent in 2015) have essentially held their ground. Meanwhile, the Braves, Phillies, Brewers, Reds, and Padres have all been aggressively shedding talent, while the Marlins and Rockies may (ok, in the Rockies' case, absolutely will) also struggle to crack 70 wins.
It's a vastly different story in the American League, however, where no one seems willing to throw in the towel. And why would they? The AL only had one club lose as many as 90 games in 2015 (the A's, who have actually acted to get better this offseason). The Red Sox, Tigers, White Sox, Yankees, and Marinersânone of whom made the postseason last yearâhave especially been aggressive in adding talent. In theory, everybody has a puncher's chance at being a .500 or better club.
That's not what's going to happen, of course. There will be injuries. The best laid plans of mice and men and Minnesotans will go awry. Somebody who expects to at least be in the running for a wild card spot will wind up bitterly disappointed. The difficulty is in predicting that in January, when there are still difference-making free agents like Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Chris Davis, and Yoenis Cespedes available. Still, as we think about who has done enough and who is still seriously at risk of falling short, I'm mostly worried about my Minnesota Twins, especially since they won't be competing for the services of any of the players listed above.
As a Minnesotan, I want to be optimistic about the Twins after their bounce-back year. But they've spent the winter essentially twiddling their thumbs. They brought in a new DH, Korean Byung-ho Park, and they've traded for a potential upgrade over Kurt Suzuki (one who isn't necessarily going to be better than Suzuki in 2016, mind you), but haven't addressed their awful bullpen with the exception of announcing that Trevor May (who has the stuff to be one of their better starting pitchers), will probably be moving to it permanently, and bringing in a number of guys on minor league deals who don't strike anybody out and who flopped out of other organizations.
May's move to the pen potentially addresses one problem, but creates another. The Twins have a ton of candidates for the starting rotation, with Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes, and Kyle Gibson seemingly locked in, and Tommy Milone, Ricky Nolasco, Tyler Duffey, and Jose Berrios available to fill in the final two slots. But they have a shortage of high-quality, high-upside MLB-ready starting pitching as well and May was one of very few MLB-ready arms who could provide that.
There's a solution here, where the Twins go into Spring Training without a prescribed role for anyone besides Glen Perkins, Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson, and Kevin Jepsen, and simply see how the chips fall. We like to talk about "having too many starters" as being "a good problem to have." In reality, there is no such problem, especially not in January. What experience has taught us is that, with pitchers especially, guys get hurt and too many arms can quickly become too few. The Twins know this firsthand thanks to last year's surprise Santana suspension and the ongoing injury problems suffered by Nolasco and Hughes. Keeping May on schedule to start the season in the rotation preserves the option if and when he demonstrates that he's one of the club's five best starters.
Knowing how Terry Ryan and the Twins operate, however, that's not going to happen. In all things, as usual, the Twins will take the path of least resistance. They will move May to the bullpen and consider it done. Just as they moved Miguel Sano to the outfield instead of trading Trevor Plouffe. Just as they refused to make any big deals at the trade deadline last year to bolster a surprising contender. Just as they cycled through disappointing veterans for four years while the team floundered in last place. It's possible that this could still work, but if the Twins aren't prepared for the inevitable road bumps, they risk being caught with their pants down (to blatantly mix metaphors).
The Twins will go forward in 2016 with mostly the same team they had last year, while division rivals actively work to improve. While I'd like to think this path is somehow an easier way to the top, experience has suggested that the Twins, in choosing inactivity, have actually found the fall line: the quickest way to the bottom.