The Minnesota Twins fanbase is angry, and it’s understandable. The team has, for the fourth year in a row, opted against joining the big free market frenzy and instead made only minor deals. Outside of Byron Buxton and Josh Donaldson’s contracts, it’s been the norm, and fans seem to finally have had enough.
The front office’s strategy can only be considered as a massive disappointment, and after missing out on their main target, they’ve opted to do very little and watch all of the major free agents sign elsewhere. It’s frustrating, saddening, and all around discouraging. After a 2022 season that fell apart due to the team’s lack of depth, fans are bordering on apathetic ahead of next year.
As bad as things may first seem, there is definitely one reason to be optimistic (and it’s one that fans still seem upset about): the starting pitching. We’ve talked a lot about this by now, mentioning it in October, when discussing the free agent market, and even when showing how the rotation could see a potential breakout. There’s a lot of talent there.
The Minnesota Twins rotation could be sneaky good and help lead the team to a division crown.
Despite how often it’s been said, people still bring up aging veterans that the team should add or merely good pitchers who don’t boost the ceiling of the rotation. It’s not necessary. As I said before, unless the team was adding a Carlos Rodon or a Nathan Eovaldi (which they didn’t), they should run with the group they have.
We’ll start with the staff ace: Sonny Gray. Gray was absolutely excellent on the mound last season, posting a 3.08 ERA (3.40 FIP), 117-36 K-BB ratio, and a 1.128 WHIP. He was far and away the Minnesota Twins’ best pitcher, and the team went 14-10 in the games he started.
Sure, he’s not a Rodon or a Zac Gallen, but he pitched well enough last year to believe that he’s a guy that the team can trust in Game One of a playoff series. While he may not do very well his third time through the order, Rocco Baldelli has managed him well and helped keep him in good situations (much to his disappointment).
Tyler Mahle and Kenta Maeda are both coming off of injuries, with Maeda’s being more significant, but both have the ability to be a very good 2 and 3 in a rotation. They’re very good pitchers, and Mahle in particular could be another top flight starter when completely healthy. Despite their impending free agency in 2024, they’ll make a great trio for this season.
After those three are the young guys. Joe Ryan is entering his third season in the league (his second full season), but he’s already established himself as a very good middle of the rotation option. If Mahle or Maeda goes down, Ryan is a more than capable of stepping up and starting the third game of a playoff series, and he still has more ceiling left.
After him, Bailey Ober is an EXCELLENT fifth starter for the Minnesota Twins. When healthy, he’s been a legitimately phenomenal pitcher who produced at arguably a higher level than any of these guys last year.
Now injuries are a real issue. Outside of Ryan (who made 27 starts), no Twins pitcher currently on the roster made 25 starts last year. That depth was a major issue last season that saw players like Aaron Sanchez, Devin Smeltzer, and Chi Chi Gonzalez make a combined 17 starts. That won’t happen again in 2023.
This year, the team’s rotation depth is MUCH better. Josh Winder and Cole Sands (one of whom will likely start the year in a long relief role) are both ready to go as a sixth starter and if they can continue to improve from last year, they both can fill in as very solid fifth starters.
In addition to Winder and Sands, Louie Varland and Simeon Woods Richardson both were able to make MLB starts last year and after a month or two in Triple-A in 2023, both pitchers should be ready for full-time roles by June.
With these four young arms, there’s no reason to sign a Michael Wacha-type arms that would eat up innings instead of letting them show their ability. With Gray, Maeda, and Mahle all scheduled to hit free agency, it’s better to see what the young guys have to offer rather than bringing back some retread.
If the team had signed an All-Star level guy like Rodon or Eovaldi, that would have made sense, but the team doesn’t need to go and add a guy like Pablo Lopez either. Don’t get me wrong, I think Lopez would immediately come in alongside Gray and Mahle as the team’s top three starters and give them a long term starter, but think of the cost.
The Marlins reportedly want top MLB hitting if they’re going to trade an arm, and moving Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, and/or Luis Arraez when the Minnesota Twins need their bats in the lineup isn’t great either.
What the Twins have come to realize and what a portion of the fanbase should consider is the team is that the rotation is fine. Their top five are good. Their depth is ready. It’s the other positions that need help now.
The Minnesota Twins need AT LEAST one more reliever and one more right-handed bat, preferably one who can play outfield. They still need to clear up their outfield logjam. It’s time to shift the focus away from the rotation and towards other issues.