Red Sox steal a key piece of pitching staff away from Twins

Toronto Blue Jays v Minnesota Twins
Toronto Blue Jays v Minnesota Twins / David Berding/GettyImages

For the first time in what feels like forever, the Minnesota Twins counted pitching as a strength last season. It took almost no time at all for the rest of the league to start picking at those bones, ransacking the pitching staff and leaving the Twins reeling for replacements.

Both Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda left in free agency, signing pretty sizable multi-year deals. Maeda stayed within the division, inking a two-year, $24 million deal with the Detroit Tigers while Gray stayed in the Central but flipped leagues by heading down to St. Louis. The Cy Young runner-up parlayed his excellent season with the Twins into a three-year, $75 million deal with the Cardinals and the loss of both starters leaves a pretty big hole in the rotation.

The losses go beyond guys we saw on the mound.

Justin Williard, who was a minor-league pitching coordinator for Minnesota, was poached by the Boston Red Sox this week. New general manager -- and former Twins player -- Craig Breslow is in the process of rebuilding certain parts of the organization and hand-picked Willard to be Boston's new Director of Pitching.

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It's a key promotion for Willard, and another big loss for the Twins.

Willard was instrumental in helping Pete Maki turn pitching into a strength that carried Minnesota to the postseason this year. Gray fully regained his form last season, producing one of the best years of his career and Pablo Lopez realized his potential as the team's next ace.

The impact Willard had, though, goes beyond just the top-line success. Willard was part of a minor league staff that helped develop guys like Bailey Ober and Louie Varland into guys who have a legitimate shot at making the starting rotation next year, as well as helping veterans like Dallas Keuchel and Chris Paddack regain their footing.

Losing Willard isn't fatal, but it goes to show just how good the Twins pitching was last year and how well the team is developing its talent. It also increases the pressure to make the right moves to replace everyone. Minnesota is expected to add at least one starting pitcher this winter, with the rumbling being that the goal is to acquire a front-line guy.

Replicating the success goes beyond just who will be on the mound, though, and the job of replacing everyone just got a little harder than it already was.

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