We’re closing in on the one-year anniversary of these memorable words from Twins GM Thad Levine: “The best moves are made not when you’re trying to open the window to contend, but when the window is wide open. We’re very eagerly waiting for this window to be opened, and when it is, we plan on striking.”
Last season, the Minnesota roster shattered the pane with 101 wins. A roster that front office characterized as possessing an “unusual abundance of variance and volatility” came up aces. Now, Levine and chief baseball officer Derek Falvey have no real choice but to believe in the talent on hand and take on the mentality of a clear contender. There are several areas to consider for improvement, but as MLBTR’s Steve Adams explained at the outset of the offseason, the rotation was the prime area of focus.
So, how to understand the club’s early maneuvering? Falvey and Levine opened the offseason by bringing back two preexisting players at much higher prices than they had played for in the prior two seasons. The added cost is understandable in each instance, as both pitchers boosted their value with quality seasons. Jake Odorizzi doesn’t seem likely to vastly outperform the $17.8MM he’s now promised after accepting the qualifying offer — he’ll be hard-pressed to replicate his excellent results from 2019 — but it’s an appealing contract for the team since it comes without any future obligations. And just-re-inked hurler Michael Pineda seemed like a plausible candidate to be pursued at a higher rate of pay, so his two-year, $20MM contract seems at worst to be a market-value move that comes with real upside.
The front office is pleased with these re-acquisitions, as it should be, but the rotation remains incomplete. “I do think we’ve stabilized the team and that was essential,” Levine explains to Dan Hayes of The Athletic (subscription link). “Now, we still have the ability to impact it significantly. But, first steps first, was to stabilize.”
Odorizzi and Pineda helped the Twins to a magical 2019 regular season and can undoubtedly be a big part of driving another winner. Doubling down on last year’s unit is mostly a fine strategy. But that roster variability that the Twins’ upper management cited this time last year? It cuts both ways. Mitch Garver might turn into a pumpkin. Nelson Cruz could show his age. Odorizzi and Pineda are hardly assured of repeating their ’19 efforts. Injuries and performance backslides are always possible. With the Indians facing uncertainty, the White Sox trying to figure out precisely how to vault into contention, and the remainder of the AL Central firmly in the rebuilding camp, now isn’t the time for the Twins to play it safe.
Retaining Odorizzi and Pineda was the prelude — but to what? Levine says that the team is “aspirational of getting the best players we can get.” He also suggested patience in making that happen. “What we’ve seen the last couple of years is that this process has skewed later and later each year,” says Levine of free agency. “Maybe we’re seeing it rebound a little bit this offseason and we’re going to be attentive to that. But we’re having a lot of meetings now to put ourselves in the best position to proceed.”
Just how it’ll all shake out remains to be seen. The Twins aren’t in the market for Gerrit Cole but do have eyes on the next tier of available arms. Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu have long been known to be targets. Fellow southpaw starter Dallas Keuchel is also of interest, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (Twitter link).
Hayes also emphasizes the possibility of trades, even noting that the front office hasn’t ruled out dealing from among its very best prospects. Trouble is, the trade market isn’t exactly laden with obviously available, high-end hurlers. Robbie Ray is probably the best rental arm that could be had; otherwise, Chris Archer may be the next-best single-season target that seems to be available. Matthew Boyd and Caleb Smith are among the controllable pitchers that ought to be open for bids. It is difficult to imagine deals coming together with the Rockies (Jon Gray, German Marquez), Mets (Noah Syndergaard), or Red Sox (Eduardo Rodriguez, David Price), but the Twins have surely inquired. Unfortunately, some of the most intriguing wild-card targets (Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger) play for the division-rival Indians.
The Twins aren’t the only organization playing this high-stakes game at the moment. Intense and widespread demand explains why the Phillies spent big to land Zack Wheeler — beating the Twins and others to do so — while the Nationals went to such heights to retain Stephen Strasburg. If and when the Twins finally put the wraps on a major transaction to haul in a top-shelf starter, it’ll likely sting the wallet or the farm. But with that metaphorical window now wide open, it’s incumbent upon the organization to dedicate real resources to taking advantage.