For a second consecutive offseason, the Minnesota Twins have been one of the most active teams in Major League Baseball on the free agent market. But they’re only assembling themselves to be a one-year threat.
Last season was a discouraging period of time for the Twins. After improving their win total by 26 games, reaching the American League Wild Card Game, and adding proven commodities such as Addison Reed, Lance Lynn, Jake Odorizzi, and Logan Morrison, they looked like a ballclub ready to take the next step in 2018. Instead, they finished with just 78 wins, missed the postseason, and fired manager Paul Molitor after the regular season.
This offseason, the Twins have made some plausible signings. After being designated for assignment by the Tampa Bay Rays, the Twins claimed first baseman C.J. Cron off waivers. They also inked second baseman Jonathan Schoop and designated hitter Nelson Cruz to contracts of their own. Those three individuals give the Twins some offensive firepower.
Cron is fresh off a career-year in which he hit .253 while totaling 30 home runs and 74 RBIs. With Joe Mauer retiring, Cron likely steps in as the Twins starter at the corner infield position — where he committed just two errors in 2018.The @Twins have been active this offseason and look like a potential playoff threat, but it's hard to envision that roster staying together past 2019.Click To Tweet
While he totaled 21 home runs and 61 RBIs in split time with the Baltimore Orioles and Milwaukee Brewers, Schoop hit just .233 in 2018. With that said, he’s one year removed from hitting .293 while totaling 32 home runs and 105 RBIs and being considered for the American League Most Valuable Player of the Year Award; a change of scenery could bring that version of Schoop back into focus.
Cruz has appeared in right field just nine times over the last two seasons, but is electric at the plate. He’s totaled 203 home runs since 2014 (which is the most in MLB over that time span), has finished with 100-plus RBIs three times in the last five seasons, and is durable (Cruz has appeared in 152-plus games in four of the last five seasons). The Twins also signed former New York Yankees infielder Ronald Torreyes, who is a contact hitter capable of playing both second and third base, as well as shortstop.
Here’s the Twins’ problem: Schoop was signed to a one-year deal and several starting pitchers on their roster are free agents after 2019. Now, Cron is under team-control through 2020, Torreyes is under team-control through 2021, and Cruz cashed in on a $14.3 million contract for 2019 with a team option worth $12 million for 2020 — which gives management some comfort.
The Twins are a team with some intriguing young players and an overall talented roster. While their offense was in the middle of the pack in 2018, they pose a bigger threat going forward. Eddie Rosario is a blossoming star, when healthy, Miguel Sano is a potent force in the middle of the Twins lineup, Jake Cave stepped up in the wake of Byron Buxton‘s chaotic season, Max Kepler and Tyler Austin hit for power, and Jorge Polanco is a steady contact hitter. Mix the likes of Cron, Schoop, and Cruz with that combination of bats, and the Twins have a lineup that could do damage.
On the rubber, the Twins have one of MLB’s best young starters in right-hander Jose Berrios. The 24-year-old recorded a 3.84 ERA whole totaling 202 strikeouts in 2018, has one of the nastiest curveballs in MLB, and has improved every season. After Berrios, first-year manager Rocco Baldelli‘s starting rotation is an enormous area of concern. Kyle Gibson recorded a career-best 3.62 ERA in 2018, Odorizzi is consistent, but not a top-of-the-rotation force, Fernando Romero was shaky in his rookie season, and Michael Pineda didn’t pitch in 2018 as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Furthermore, the Twins bullpen is worrisome. In 2018, their pen finished 22nd in MLB in ERA (4.45) and 25th in opponent batting average (.260). Reed recorded a disappointing 4.50 ERA while Trevor Hildenberger and Gabriel Moya struggled immensely. Meanwhile, the Twins traded Fernando Rodney and Ryan Pressly over in the summer, and Zach Duke is currently a free agent. The only bright spot was Taylor Rogers who recorded a 2.63 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in 72 appearances. Uncertainty clouds the Twins bullpen, as well as the backend of their starting rotation. And with Reed, Gibson, Odorizzi, and Pineda hitting free agency after 2019, there’s uncertainty surrounding the Twins pitching staff, as a whole, moving forward.
The Twins aren’t known for making significant free agent signings mostly because they’re a small market franchise. Last offseason, they were in on the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, but ultimately didn’t land the hard-throwing right-hander. Outside of that pursuit, the Twins haven’t been linked to big names on the free agent market in recent memory. That’s partially why they take chances on players looking to prove themselves on short-term deals. But, what’s the best-case scenario for the Twins in 2019? Their free agent signees have big seasons, help lead the Twins to the playoffs, and then what?
Sure, the Cleveland Indians have traded away and lost prominent individuals, but they’re still the most well-rounded team in the American League Central. And while none of them pose a threat to win the division and aren’t better than the Twins, the Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, and Kansas City Royals will, at some point, begin to resemble competitive ballclubs. If Schoop, Gibson, and Odorizzi, among others, have strong seasons, they’re going to want to cash in and understandably so. While the Twins should be able to keep at least one of them, it’s unlikely that they’ll dish out significant long-term deals to all of their soon-to-be free agents.
One year ago, this was a team that was deep in all three facets of the game (lineup, starting rotation, bullpen). Right now, that’s not the case. From a talent perspective, the Twins should be able to have a winning record in 2019. They have a deep lineup and some proven starting pitchers, but they need more depth on their pitching staff.
The Twins could still fortify that aspect of their ballclub. They could extend an offer to retain Ervin Santana given they have the inside track on his most recent injury. They could also look to veteran left-handers Gio Gonzalez and Wade Miley to deepen their rotation. Maybe they target backend relievers such as right-handers David Robertson and Kelvin Herrera. But, for the meantime, their roster has some gaping holes, as well as individuals who are going to play prominent roles in 2019 hitting the open market next offseason.
The Twins are a playoff threat in 2019, but it’s difficult to envision the roster they’ve assembled staying in place in the coming years.