Opening Day is almost here, but with the arrival of a new season comes a fresh batch of questions that will need to be answered by the Minnesota Twins.
Perhaps the most pressing question revolves around the starting pitching staff. Last season starters failed to average much more than five innings per game, something that had a deep impact on the season as a whole.
Minnesota vastly underperformed last year, something that started with pitchers not going deep into starts and putting pressure on a bullpen not fully equiped to deal with the stress. Add to that some injuries that put a strain on the lineup and all of a sudden the Twins were playing must-win games in September with Josh Winder and Chris Archer on the mound.
It wasn't ideal, which is the nicest way to put it.
Frustration from fans was pointed directly at manger Rocco Baldelli who was sharply criticized for his management of the starting pitching staff and his overall failure to navigate the team to the postseason.
That frustration wasn't exclusive to just fans.
Sonny Gray spoke about the starting staff heading into the season and offered up a quote that is impossible to not read at least a little bit into.
Sonny Gray offers up cryptic comments about Twins starting pitchers
Of course, reading into these sorts of things is always tricky, but the pitching situation is a lightning rod heading into Opening Day. It wasn't just the fans who were frustrated with how things were managed last year, as Gray seemed to stop short of saying Rocco's name when talking about how what happened in 2022 won't fly this season.
"I don't think we're interested in going four innings and being happy. I feel like we had a group last year that was pretty content with going four innings, and [thought] going four or five innings is considered a good start. I disagreed with that then. I disagree with that now, but I feel like the guys we have aren't content with it either," Gray said.
Well, that's certainly...interesting.
It sounds like a call out of Baldelli's management but is also a shot at the complacency some of the starting pitchers might have felt last season. Consider Gray's use of past tense when talking about the guys who he thinks didn't bring enough to the table and the comments can be seen in a different light.
"Which is what you want, especially as a rotation," Gray continued. "You want to build off each other. You don't want to walk out there and throw four innings and walk away happy about it."
Rather than take this comment as one that starts drama, consider it from a perspective of a veteran leader who won't stand for anything less than perfection.
That's something that has been lacking not only in the starting staff but in the clubhouse as a whole over the last few years. Twins fans will be the first to tell you when they spot a team starting to ease off the gas and Gray doesn't sound interested in settling for less.
Gray has personal motivation for the Twins to bounce back this year. He's in the final year of his contract and will hit free agency in December at the age of 34. Should things go well, he'll be in line for perhaps the last big contract of his career.
Minnesota has incentive for Gray to deliver on his little pep talk. The Twins exercised a $12.7M option to retain Gray, and could be looking to continue their relationship with a contract extension is he proves to be a top-tier starter that the team needs.
So far there's been a lot of chatter this spring -- from Gray, Rocco, and fans -- but when Opening Day rolls around that's when talk is cheap and results are what counts.