Minnesota Twins: How a contender was built from the ashes of 2016

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CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 01: Brandon Kintzler #27 of the Minnesota Twins takes a moment before the start of the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on October 1, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Minnesota Twins won 5-0. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 01: Brandon Kintzler #27 of the Minnesota Twins takes a moment before the start of the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on October 1, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Minnesota Twins won 5-0. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) /
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Minnesota Twins
Brandon Kintzler #27 of the Minnesota Twins (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) /

Just three seasons ago, the Minnesota Twins started 0-5 and lost the most games in Minnesota history. We look at how they turned it all around.

This franchise’s rapid rebuild over three seasons from 2016-2018 is an incredible one. After finally coming out of the dark in 2015 with several future stars (Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Tyler Duffey) making their début, the expectations for 2016 were high. Unfortunately, disaster struck.

The franchise’s quickest turnaround can’t be told in three parts, one for each year: 2016: The Minnesota Twins fix the Front Office, 2017: The Twins figure out what works, and 2018: The End of Paul Molitor. It’s a story that has a few surprises and is still a work in progress, but one that deserves to be told.

Minnesota Twins
Minnesota Twins’ Eduardo Escobar #5 and Max Kepler (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

2016: The Minnesota Twins fix the Front Office

On this date in Minnesota Twins history, April 9th, 2016, the Twins lost their fifth straight game to drop to 0-5, their worst start in team history. The team would lose the next four games to start 0-9, the only time ever the Twins started the season with more than four losses in a row.

Even back when the team played in Washington as the senators, the franchise never started worse than 0-4. The 2016 Twins finished with an awful 59-103 record, worst in the league and the fourth worst record in franchise history (including the dreadful Senator years).

More from Minnesota Twins History

This was shocking for a team that won 83 games in 2015 behind impressive rookie seasons from Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario who both finished in the Top 6 in the Rookie of the Year race. Manager Paul Molitor also impressed in his first year with the team, looking like a good hiring decision.

This meant it was time for changes. On July 18th, Terry Ryan was fired, ending his second stint with the team. From 2011-2016, the Twins lost more than 90 games five of Ryan’s six seasons at the helm. With Molitor in only his second season, he was kept on, but the Twins kept making moves.

Eduardo Nunez, Fernando Abad, Alex Meyer, and Ricky Nolasco were all traded away as the season progressed, giving the team cap space and clearing out two players who were extremely unhappy (Meyer and Nolasco). The trades didn’t bring back much, but the team got cap space and a more easy-going bench.

Jason Castro and Ehire Adrianza were brought in during the 2017 offseason, with Castro’s three-year-deal one of the largest free agent contracts the team signed. The biggest addition the team made, was GM Thad Levine and Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey, who brought a new emphasis on player development.

Terry Ryan was excellent at bringing talented players into the organization, as most of the Twins key players were Ryan signees or draft picks. However, he struggled to get the most out of these players (former top picks six picks Tyler Jay and Kohl Stewart stand out as the biggest failures).

Falvey and Levine have already proved excellent at development with their development of a top farm system despite Royce Lewis being their only top pick in the draft. They’ve developed strong players out of later picks, doing what good GMs do.

Minnesota Twins
Minnesota Twins’ Byron Buxton #25 and Max Kepler #26 (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images) /

2017: The Minnesota Twins figure out What Works

In 2017, the Twins became the first team since the 1991 World Series Twins to go from last in their division to the playoffs as they made the Wild Card game and won 85 games. The team had a fun season and played well as a group.

Jorge Polanco, Buxton, Kepler, Sano, and Rosario all put together decent seasons and  cemented themselves as key starters in the lineup after a disappointing 2016 season. Mitch Garver showed enough to allow the Twins to make him the team’s second catcher behind Castro.

On the pitching side, Jose Berrios and Taylor Rogers had breakout seasons, with Berrios going 14-8 with a 3.69 ERA. Rogers’ 3.07 ERA and seven wins made the 26 year-old a key part of their bullpen.

The Twins had the beginnings of the 2019 team in place. Though they were ousted in the Wild Card round, Molitor won the Manager of the Year and the team looked ready to have another strong year in 2018.

One of the team’s best moves came in the middle of the year. The team was struggling to stay in competition, so they traded for Jaime Garcia, but then traded him away and landed key reliever from 2019, Zack Littell.

The constant tinkering with the roster boosted the team, and the 2017 signings of Randy Dobnak, Willians Astudillo, and Michael Pineda would eventually pay dividends. The Falvey and Levine hirings immediately started paying dividends.

Minnesota Twins
Paul Molitor #4 of the Minnesota Twins (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images) /

2018: The Minnesota Twins and the End of Paul Molitor

The 2018 offseason was a big one for the Twins, as they brought in Fernando Rodney and traded for Jake Odorizzi and Jake Cave. They were primed for a big year, but the team never took off. By the trade deadline, the team was nine games out of first and fading fast.

The team traded Eduardo Escobar, Ryan Pressly, Zach Duke, Lance Lynn and Brian Dozier in July and sent out Rodney in August. Though those trades didn’t bring back a lot of 2019 support, they did return Jhoan Duran, Gabriel Maciel, Dakota Chalmers, and Jorge Alcala, all five of whom are ranked among the Twins Top 30 prospects.

The Dozier trade in particular brought in Devin Smeltzer, who was one of the team’s top long relievers in 2019 and Luke Raley, who the team sent back to the Dodgers this last offseason to help bring back Kenta Maeda.

2018 also taught management that they had gone about as far as they could with the current coaching staff. The Twins relieved manager and Minnesota icon Paul Molitor of his duties. They then proceeded to hire manager Rocco Baldelli, the youngest manager in the league.

Baldelli brought in a new analytical perspective to the team and immediately led the team to their first 100 win seasons in fifty-four years. Baldelli’s addition of Wes Johnson and Jeremy Hefner to a stellar coaching staff brought the team’s pitching to a new level.

The 2018 offseason also brought up a lot of open cap space, with the Joe Mauer coming to a close and Ervin Santana and Logan Morrison also heading out. The Twins used this cap space to bring in Marwin Gonzalez, Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron, Blake Parker, and Jonathan Schoop, key contributors throughout 2019.

2019 and beyond for the Minnesota Twins

The Twins are now a true contender in the stacked American League. If they can get by the dreaded New York Yankees, they have a shot at making it all the way. But after the 2016 season, just over three years ago, it didn’t look like that.

Kudos to the organization for doing what had to be done. From now on, the Twins have a shot to be really competitive and that’s all because the organization did what had to be done after the disappointment of 2016.

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