It’s no secret that the 2021 season hasn’t gone the way the Minnesota Twins have hoped. At 31-43, the team is tied for last place, 12 games behind the first-place White Sox. With the postseason becoming more distant with each passing day, it’s looking unlikely that the Twins will be where they want at the end of the season.
However, this doesn’t necessarily change the long-term goals of the team. It’s very much within the realm of possibility for Minnesota to re-up, make a few roster adjustments, and contend for the division title next season.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the upcoming free agent class, and see which players could be a good fit for the Twins in 2022.
Minnesota Twins: Free Agency Starting Pitching Targets
(Contract figures & lengths from Spotrac)
Pitching is always a need for any team, but for the Minnesota Twins, it’s going to be a major need heading into the offseason. J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker will both be free agents at year’s end, and it would require a stunning turnaround for either to be brought back.
Michael Pineda (3.70 ERA, 111 ERA+) has been one of the Twins’ most consistent arms over the past three years, but he hasn’t been re-signed yet, so he will also be a free agent. The 2022 free agency class has few big-name pitchers, but it’s difficult to picture most of them ending up in Minnesota.
A pair of Houston aces will be available, as Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander will both be FAs. Greinke will be 38 years old and Verlander will be 39, coming off an entirely lost season. With the Astros teeming with good pitchers and great prospects, both may free to walk after this year.
Taking a flyer on Verlander is certainly a possibility (think Corey Kluber’s Yankee contract, but probably more expensive), yet he can’t be the only upgrade for the Twins pitching-wise. Let’s think bigger: Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer are both set to hit the market as well. Could either of them be a fit in Minnesota?
It’s nearly impossible to imagine Kershaw in a uniform besides Dodger blue. At this point in his career, it’s hard to picture him signing with any team besides the Dodgers or Rangers (Kershaw is from Dallas), but even the Rangers would be a stunner. Plus with his childhood friend Matt Stafford now in town, he’s not going anywhere.
Scherzer seems to be more realistic, but it still looks unlikely for Mad Max to end up with the Twins. With the Nationals scuffling a bit (34-36), it wouldn’t be out of the question for them to attempt to move one of their key pieces for some prospects (and probably a bit more).
Yet, we’ve seen this story with the Nats before. They won the 2019 World Series after starting 19-31. They likely aren’t ready to break it down yet, especially not enough to move a player of Scherzer’s caliber.
Scherzer is a guy who has seemed to set up shop in Washington. A member of the Nats since 2015, he has spoken about how his family has grown during his time in D.C., and how much his work/life balance has changed as well. It’s hard to picture him signing elsewhere, unless he’s moved at the trade deadline (which, as I just mentioned, also seems unlikely).
The most realistic high-end starter for Minnesota is probably Kevin Gausman. This season, Gausman has recorded a 1.51 ERA (263 ERA+), with 103 strikeouts against just 19 walks. Gausman makes $18.9 million this season, and would likely demand more if he continues this dominant campaign.
That said, this wouldn’t necessarily be a deal-breaker for the Twins, who are about $60 million under the luxury tax, according to Spotrac. Unfortunately, Gausman’s may want to stay in San Francisco. Since mid-2020, the right-hander has been vocal about wanting to remain in the bay.
Lance Lynn is another notable FA as well. Lynn has seen a late career resurgence and developed into an ace, with a 2.14 ERA this season (3.28 ERA since 2019). This offseason, the Twins may have a chance to pull him away from the rival White Sox, à la Alex Colomé, but like Gausman, Lynn wouldn’t be cheap.
There are other, lower-cost options available. Of course, these arms typically come with more risk. The Twins played that game with J.A. Happ last offseason, and it hasn’t worked out. It wouldn’t be extraordinarily surprising to see the team spend a bit more to ensure themselves some consistency, especially with more pressure to succeed in 2022 after the way 2021 has begun.
Minnesota Twins: Bullpen Help
Starting pitching isn’t the only area where the Twins could use some help, however. The bullpen hasn’t been quite as good as most expected, and an upgrade could go a long way. The Twins attempted to upgrade last offseason, signing Alex Colomé away from Chicago. However, he has really struggled, with a 5.26 ERA in 28 appearances.
Minnesota also brought in Hansel Robles, who has quietly been one of the team’s better relievers, but he will be a free agent at the end of the year, so it’s important that the Twins make an effort to resign him. With that being said, relievers can be volatile, and with Minnesota looking to improve their ‘pen, they should look to bring in a fresh face as well.
There are certainly some intriguing names on the relief market this offseason. Kenley Jansen is off to a tremendous start for the Dodgers, and will be a free agent. Another closer, Boston’s Matt Barnes, is also set to become a free agent in the offseason. Both pitchers are having very strong seasons, and bringing in either one would help bolster the late-innings for Minnesota.
Out of the two, Barnes appears to be more realistic, simply due to cost. A bullpen relying on Robles, Barnes, Taylor Rogers, Jorge Alcala, Tyler Duffey, and Caleb Thielbar could be extremely effective for Minnesota. Plus, a return to form for Colomé would suddenly provide the Twins with seven strong arms out of the bullpen.
Even if Colomé can’t figure it out, a Minnesota bullpen that features numerous reliable arms could be a huge part of the team’s success in 2022. With so many question marks about the starting rotation, the bullpen will need to be strong for the Twins. Don’t be surprised if the team brings in several new faces for the ‘pen.
Minnesota Twins: The Cruz Conundrum?
There’s no doubt about it: Nelson Cruz simply doesn’t age. At 40 years old, Cruz has posted a .952 OPS with 16 homers in 64 games. After signing a 1-year deal last offseason, Cruz will again be a free agent at year’s end.
There’s no question that Minnesota has to resign Cruz. He has, by far, the highest OPS on the Twins (out of qualified hitters) this season. His 16 home runs also lead the team. He’s simply been the most consistent hitter on the team in 2021.
Cruz makes $13 million this year. Realistically, the Twins could sign the slugger to another 1-year deal, and probably one worth slightly less money. As long as he continues to rake, there’s no reason for him to not remain in a Twins uniform.
The rest of the offense is where it gets a bit tricky. New shortstop Andrelton Simmons will be a free agent, and he hasn’t hit well. Yet, he’s a tremendous defender. The 2022 shortstop class is absolutely loaded with talent, but it doesn’t seem too likely for the Twins to spend enough to bring in someone like Trevor Story or Corey Seager, especially not if they’re planning to focus on pitching.
As of right now, the offense seems like it’ll remain mostly the same next year. Hitting hasn’t been the issue for the Twins, really. At 4.62 runs per game, the Twins are 11th in the majors. However, Minnesota’s pitching staff (and Willians Astudillo) has allowed 5.33 runs per game, second-worst in baseball. The only team to allow more runs per game are the Diamondbacks (5.63).
Minnesota Twins: Is 2022 the Year?
Maybe it’s the optimist in me, but the Minnesota Twins can certainly contend for a playoff spot with their current lineup, and some improved pitching. Adding an arm or two to the bullpen, upgrading the Happ/Shoemaker spots in the rotation, and resigning a few key players, should be enough to get the job done.
It’s a long season, so it’s hard to predict exactly how the team will act in free agency. However, with the way that the first 73 games have gone, it’s pretty clear that they will need to address their pitching staff in some way.