Minnesota Twins Could Follow 2017 Colorado Rockies Path to 2018 Contention

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 18: Robbie Grossman
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 18: Robbie Grossman /
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Could the blueprint for the Minnesota Twins to compete in 2018 already be playing out in Colorado right now?

With the Minnesota Twins likely selling off from competing this season and planning to come out in 2018, the question is what the plans are to make the team competitive in 2018. Will there be a big free agent signing? Big trades? What if the pieces are all right in house?

The Twins could take a page from the book of the Colorado Rockies in the way that they developed their team in 2017 to make their surprising Wild Card run. The 2016 Rockies had plenty of issues, leading to their manager Walt Weiss leaving the club, losing 87 games (in spite of a Pythagorean record of 80-82). After the 2016 season, the Rockies saw a host of veteran free agents leave.

After the 2017 season, the Minnesota Twins have Hector Santiago, Bartolo Colon, Brandon Kintzler, and Matt Belisle eligible for free agency. Glen Perkins has an option for the 2018 season that has an affordable buyout that could lead to the team buying out his final year and making him a free agent as well.

Where the challenge will be for the Minnesota Twins will be in arbitration, where Kyle Gibson could make $4-5M, Eduardo Escobar $3-4M, Anthony Recker $1-2M, Ryan Pressly $2-3M, Chris Gimenez $1-2M, Ehire Adrianza $1-2M, Trevor May $750K-$1M, Robbie Grossman $1-3M, and Michael Tonkin $750K-1M. Those increases in salary could hamstring the organization significantly financially unless the team chooses to trade or cut a number of those pieces this summer or after the season, leaving holes to be filled on the major league roster.

So how did the Rockies end up filling the holes they had in their roster?

Lineup

Much like the Twins, the Rockies had their lineup primarily in place, interestingly enough led by a superstar third baseman in both cases. The Twins young lineup really has few holes as it stands. The young outfield is dynamic offensively and defensively, especially if Byron Buxton‘s improvement before his injury can be continued forward, and if the team likes Grossman’s high on-base, gap-hitting approach in the DH spot but want to save the money, they could plug Zack Granite in for a similar performance.

Up the middle, the team has seen struggles from Jorge Polanco this season. While Engelb Vielma is a tremendous defender in AAA, help from the farm is most likely coming from Nick Gordon, who is probably best figured for a mid-season 2018 debut, not relied on as an early-season 2018 option. That could mean a pickup of a free agent option this offseason to supplement the lineup.

While the Rockies went out and grabbed one of the bigger names in free agency in Ian Desmond, it is unlikely that the Twins go big after the biggest free agent shortstop on the market this year, Zack Cozart. Former Royal Alcides Escobar and former Twin Eduardo Nunez will similarly be beyond the price point the Twins want to pay. However, picking up someone like Danny Espinosa could prove a valuable acquisition.

Bullpen

Here is where the Twins can take the most lesson from the Rockies in spending. The Rockies had few power arms at the upper levels of their farm system, so they took steps to trade excess bats for power relievers (Corey Dickerson for Jake McGee) and to sign power relievers, however, not the top-end guys like Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman. Instead, they focused on guys like Greg Holland.

The Twins have the luxury of a number of power arms that are getting healthy and showing themselves ready for the bullpen at the AA and AAA level. J.T. Chargois, Mason Melotakis, John Curtiss, Jake Reed, Randy Rosario, Luke Bard, Tyler Jay, Nick Burdi, and others are going to be healthy and making a case for the Twins bullpen if not at the outset of 2018, at some point during the 2018 season.

That allows the Twins to focus their attention on more “risky” or “flyer” types for the bullpen that are high-risk, high-reward types, outside of ensuring they have someone to replace Brandon Kintzler at the back of the bullpen. There are a number of quality veteran relievers they could taget at that end of the market this year in free agency, like Drew Storen, Joe Smith, or old friend Pat Neshek. They could take a flyer on a guy like Neftali Feliz as well.

If the Twins wanted to take a step into more expensive options, they could re-sign Kintzler, or pursue Wade Davis, Luke Gregerson, Addison Reed, Jake McGee, or Tony Watson.

Rotation

However, the real focus that should match the Rockies method in 2017 is in the rotation. Of the Rockies who started the 6 most games for the team in the 2016 season, 4 were not going to be with the team on opening day when spring training opened, and another was injured during spring training.

This led to a radical move that has paid off in droves for the Rockies. The Rockies, like the Twins now, especially after the addition of Zack Littell and Dietrich Enns to the system, had a load of pitchers of quality at the AA/AAA level that perhaps weren’t future aces, but they were all guys that could get a start and help the team.

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The opening day rotation for the Colorado Rockies featured Tyler Chatwood and three rookies (a fifth starter was not needed immediately, but another rookie has thrown the fifth-most innings for the Rockies). The Twins could even move Ervin Santana this offseason and still have a rotation that featured Jose Berrios, Adalberto Mejia, and then a mixture of pitchers in their first year from a combination of guys like Littell, Enns, Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero, Felix Jorge, Kohl Stewart, Dereck Rodriguez, Aaron Slegers, Nik Turley, and even some minor league free agent types like a Dillon Gee or Tim Melville.

Would this be the most ideal? Very possibly not, and it could blow up in spectacular fashion early on in the season, but the great part is that the Twins would then have the financial position and the prospects in hand to make a move for starters on the market in 2018, and with the free agent class of 2018 including Dallas Keuchel, Matt Harvey, Garrett Richards, Drew Pomeranz, and possible opt-outs of Clayton Kershaw and David Price, there could be excellent pitching available on the market next season.

Next: Garcia traded to Yankees

The Twins could certainly choose to hold on to Ervin Santana for a veteran piece going forward. Another offseason “risk” signing that would emulate the Holland signing would be Michael Pineda, who is a free agent this season after having Tommy John surgery this summer. Signing him to a 2-year deal with multiple vesting options could turn out to be a huge win for the team as well by playing on the lower end of the market.

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