Minnesota Twins (85-77), 2nd in AL Central (WC2)
Notable free agents: Bartolo Colon, Matt Belisle, Dillon Gee, Glen Perkins, Hector Santiago
The Twins were bounced by the Yankees in the Wild Card game this postseason, but feel heading into winter has to be overwhelmingly positive. Paul Molitor’s group rebounded from a 103 loss season in 2016 to shock the baseball world and actually compete in a postseason game!
Now, as the Twins look to the future and continue to improve, they can look back on that Wild Card loss to see where they should start.
The Twins should be able to score runs in 2018, and they were scoring them at will in the Wild Card game before being shut down by one of the best bullpens in baseball. The problem will clearly be improving their pitching, who failed to hold a three run lead for more than a half an inning at the Stadium this October.
Ervin Santana, the Twins’ Wild Card game starter, will likely remain the ace, followed by the youngster Jose Berrios and veteran Kyle Gibson. With one of the smaller payrolls in baseball, the Twins will likely seek affordable arms to try and improve the back of their rotation, so don’t count on them making a run for a guy like Yu Darvish. Maybe Lance Lynn of the Cardinals could be an option. It’s hard to imagine Bartolo Colon wouldn’t be interested in returning, since he clearly plans on playing until Jaromir Jagr retires from the NHL, but given his struggles in 2017, it’s hard to imagine the Twins bringing him back.
Unfortunately for the Twins, starting pitching is only half the battle if they want to continue to contend in 2018. The bullpen needs work, and the team was shown first-hand what an effective bullpen can do during their Wild Card loss in which the Yankee bullpen combined for over eight innings of quality relief. The Twins’ bullpen was second-to-last in baseball in strikeouts-per-nine last year, a number that has to improve if they want to get back to the postseason.
Again, given the Twins’ self-made budget and their previous spending habits, it’s hard to imagine Thad Levine splurging on a high-end bullpen arm like Wade Davis. Maybe they can spend a little more than expected and bring in an arm like Pat Neshek or Brandon Morrow, who might see his stock rise after his October performance. In all likelihood, the Twins go after a bargain veteran to anchor the back of their bullpen.
Looking at the lineup, it looks like the Twins are mostly set in the field. Byron Buxton figures to anchor the outfield for years to come, while a healthy Miguel Sano will return to the middle of the lineup, surrounded by solid bats like Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier.
Mauer doesn’t hit for power anymore, so the Twins could do themselves a favor and go after a power bat this offseason, but again, the only worthy acquisitions may prove to be out of the team’s price range. Regardless, the thought of a free agent like J.D. Martinez bolstering the lineup in a DH role is obviously intriguing.
This feels like a crucial offseason for the Twins. Their surprising rebound may have altered immediate expectations, but they are still a young team that could be set to compete in the division in coming years if their young core remains intact and prospects like shortstop Nick Gordon and pitcher Fernando Romero pan out.
Do the Twins sacrifice some of their young pieces and acquire an established arm or right-handed bat to try and immediately build upon their success, or does the plan stay the same?
The team’s success certainly relieved the pressure off of Molitor, who was given a three-year deal after the team’s drastic turnaround. However, the sudden success may add pressure to the Twins’ front office, where Levine and Derek Falvey have decisions to make on how patient they want to be.