Much of the focus of the Twins’ offseason thus far has been on their intent to scale back payroll amid the collapse of their RSN deal with Diamond Sports Group/Bally Sports, and potential trades of veterans like Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, Kyle Farmer and Christian Vazquez. However, while all of those storylines remain valid, the Twins’ desire to reduce payroll doesn’t preclude them from spending at all. Minnesota has a projected payroll of about $125MM right now and figures to end up in the $125-135MM range. Trades of Kepler ($10MM salary in 2024), Polanco ($10.5MM), Farmer ($6.6MM projected salary) and/or Vazquez ($10MM) could leave them with room for some spending.
To that end, it’s worth highlighting that both Bobby Nightengale of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Dan Hayes of The Athletic have written this week that the Twins expect to add at least one starting pitcher this winter. That’s not likely to be a top-of-the-market name but rather someone to compete with Louie Varland for the final spot in the rotation, Nightengale suggests. Minnesota also hopes to bring in a second veteran arm (if not more) on a minor league deal, Hayes adds.
As it stands, even with the departures of Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda, Minnesota has a respectable front five. Pablo Lopez, Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober, Chris Paddack and the aforementioned Varland are currently at the top of the depth chart, with minor league arms like Simeon Woods Richardson, Brent Headrick and yet-to-debut prospects David Festa and Matt Canterino (who missed the 2023 season due rehabbing from 2022 Tommy John surgery) next in line.
It’s a nice group of arms, but Paddack figures to be on an innings count in his first full season back from his second career Tommy John surgery. He looked excellent in 8 2/3 innings of bullpen work late in the regular season and during the playoffs, but overall he pitched just 18 1/3 frames between his minor league rehab stint, brief regular-season return, and that playoff showing. He pitched 22 1/3 innings the year prior.
The Twins don’t yet know how many innings they can count on from Paddack, but it’ll surely be fewer than his career-high 140 2/3 frames. Even reaching 100 frames would have to be considered a success, given his recent lack of innings. All four of their other starters topped 140 innings in 2023 (Triple-A time for Varland and Ober included), but the Twins can’t presume each of Lopez, Ryan, Ober and Varland will be healthy enough for 30-plus appearances for a second straight season in 2024 (again, including Triple-A time for the latter two). They’re also losing a combined 288 1/3 innings from the departures of Gray and Maeda.
Even if the Twins can safely be crossed off the list of expected suitors for Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery and the like, there are plenty of experienced arms who could slot into the mix in the final two rotation spots. A veteran like Wade Miley would provide steady innings on a short-term deal. The Twins could also pursue an upside/rebound play like Jack Flaherty or Frankie Montas, the latter of whom they targeted in trades a couple years back. On the lower end of the salary spectrum, the Twins’ existing depth makes them a reasonable candidate to roll the dice on former top prospect and reigning KBO MVP Erick Fedde, who’s eyeing a possible MLB return. In general, it’s a deep class of free-agent pitchers. It’s also plausible that they could acquire a younger back-of-the-rotation candidate in a deal involving one of those previously mentioned trade candidates, simultaneously bolstering depth and scaling back payroll in the process.
The Twins probably aren’t going to be major free-agent players this offseason, as they’ve been in the past couple winters, but between their pursuit of some additional innings/rotation depth and president of baseball operations Derek Falvey’s recent acknowledgment that he’ll likely explore the first base market, Minnesota could still be active in the middle and lower tiers of free agency — in addition to their expected activity on the trade market.