The Minnesota Twins came into the offseason needing pitching, but they’ve come up empty-handed at every turn.
In past years, the Minnesota Twins have been able to sneak under the radar during the hot stove season. While most teams have backed up the Brink’s truck to sign some of the upper echelon free agents, the Twins have been patiently waiting for their window of opportunity to open. Said strategy makes sense when your brain trust is trying to build something that can be competitive in the long run.
Take the Twins’ approach last winter, for example. Heading into the offseason, both Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine were very cautious heading into free agency. Although they were linked to some of the top free agents, the Twins made a series of low-key signings in order to patch some holes to help a 77-win team just be better than it was the year before.
“The best moves are made not when you’re trying to open the window to contend, but when the window is wide open,” Levine told the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Phill Miller last January. “We’re very eagerly waiting for this window to be opened, and when it is, we plan on striking.”
The window wasn’t open at the time, but the group of signings which included Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop and others ripped it off the hinges with a 101-win season and the team’s first American League Central Division title since 2010.
These were good things for the Twins, but the end of the season left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. The Twins patchwork strategy in the bullpen and starting rotation went haywire and although an easy schedule temporarily solved the problem, it couldn’t save them from a sweep from the similarly homer-happy New York Yankees in the postseason.
With that, the top priority for the Twins was to find the pitching to get them over the hump. Although we are not even at the midway point of the offseason, the Twins front office has not achieved that goal.
Yes, the Twins did bring back two of its better pieces from last year’s rotation in Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda, but going into the season with those two and Jose Berrios represents the definition of insanity (and that’s not even counting the remaining 39 games that Pineda has to serve on a 60-game suspension for violating MLB’s performance-enhancing drugs policy).
However, there have been several opportunities that seem like the Twins are holding back in free agency. Take what you will into Zack Wheeler wanting to stay in the National League and closer to family before turning down a five-year, $100 million offer from the Twins and it was never realistic to expect Minnesota to suddenly shell out a massive contract for Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg.
But the recent events with Madison Bugarner should have fans concerned. The left-hander agreed to a five-year, $85 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday night despite the Twins being engaged in conversations with Bumgarner for the past couple weeks. According to KSTP-TV’s Darren Wolfson, the Twins did offer the 30-year old a contract but weren’t willing to offer the fifth year, which sent him to the desert.
This is a way too familiar story for Twins fans. Bumgarner absolutely carried risk, but with the job that pitching coach Wes Johnson did with reclamation projects throughout the Twins’ rotation last season, it was worth the risk to see if Minnesota could return him near his All-Star form. Instead, the Twins obsession with value left them empty-handed.
For now, the Twins are left slim pickings on the free-agent front as Hyun-Jin Ryu has been a target, but there have also been whispers he would like to remain on the west coast. Dallas Keuchel is another intriguing target, but the Twins were gun-shy about him during the sudden free-agent sweepstakes with Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel last June.
If the Twins miss there, they may be out of luck as many of the lower-tier options such as Rick Porcello (Mets), Cole Hamels (Braves) and Tanner Roark (Blue Jays) have already found employment. Even as the Twins go into the trade market, they’re left dangling fan-favorite Eddie Rosario and offering Jake Cave for Elieser Hernandez, who carries a 5.11 career ERA.
Some fans will be quick to call out the ownership group led by Jim Pohlad for the quiet offseason, but just as much blame lands on the brain trust of Falvey and Levine, who will be quick to remind you that the offseason is still young.
Still, this year’s installment of the hot stove has moved much faster than last year’s did. With the Twins desperate for pitching, adding an extra year on the Bumgarner deal would have been an OK move considering the waves of prospects in the minor leagues including Brusdar Graterol, Jhoan Duran and Jordan Balazovic who should be making their way to Target Field over the next couple seasons.
That depth (which is not currently ready for major league competition) could have brought a trade if Bumgarner scuffled at the end of the deal considering the Twins have done very well at dealing major league players for lower-level prospects (ex. Brian Dozier for Devin Smeltzer, Eduardo Escobar for Duran). Yet, here we are.
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A move needs to be made before the Twins report and with options coming off the board, it’s possible the Twins could be left out in this game of musical chairs.