MINNEAPOLIS — Whether through MLB free agency, targeting players in trades, or both, the Twins aspire to improve their pitching staff this winter. That reads like an obvious statement. But for a fan base that wonders if the team has done enough to add arms in the past, it’s reassuring to hear.
Will they work to land one of the best pitchers in baseball?
“I can’t put a number or where a guy is or what that means, but we’re going to target impact pitching,” Twins CBO Derek Falvey said.
“What that looks like? I can’t predict that today, just because I don’t know how exactly the market’s going to play out through the course of the winter. But I can tell you it’s highly likely that we’re going to spend a lot of time focused on: ‘How do we acquire on that side of the ball?'”
In the line of questions that last roughly an hour Wednesday, the name Gerrit Cole wasn’t mentioned. Nor were good pitchers who might become trade targets like Matthew Boyd, German Marquez or Robbie Ray. But those names, specifically, didn’t need to be mentioned. The point of the question was clear: Will the Twins shoot for the top end of the pitching market this winter?
“I think we owe it to ourselves to evaluate, what does the most extreme case look like,” GM Thad Levine said. “But then also, what are the other realistic cases that we can pursue throughout the course of the year? Because we don’t singularly control any one of those things. And what we’re not going to do is be caught standing still because we were so committed to one plan that we miss out on other real opportunities that might come right before our eyes that we miss.”
In other words: “You can’t just have a Plan A. Tomorrow’s Plan B becomes the next day’s Plan A,” Levine said. “We’re going to be nimble, and we’re going to be adjusting as we understand the fluid nature of what the acquisition costs — whether it’s on the free agent front or on the trade front — throughout the course of this offseason, so we can make the best decisions for this franchise for the immediate term and the future.”
Levine has a way with words, and the imagery he conjured last winter was in response to a young boy’s question that represented the most pressing on the mind of many Twins fans: Will you go big for free agents Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado?
Levine spoke to two parts of the question. The Twins would evaluate if they had the right “who” in those discussions, and if that box was checked, they’d ask if they had pegged the right “when,” because you don’t want to make the big splash on a mid-market team if the team around that incoming player isn’t ready to perennially contend.
Well, 101 wins later, the answer seems pretty clear. The window to win is wide open.
“I think the imagery that we talked about at TwinsFest is that maybe we were jamming our fingers underneath the window and we were starting to get some leverage,” Levine said Wednesday.
“I think we feel a breeze. We’re feeling a breeze right now. I think we feel like we’re getting to a place now where we feel a little bit more emboldened to sit down with Jim Pohlad and Dave [St. Peter] and talk about being a little bit more aggressive. We feel like we’re progressing for sure.”
C.J. Cron dealt with a thumb injury for a good portion for the summer and he’ll be evaluated early this offseason.
“He was dealing with that through the end [of the season],” Falvey said. “He is going to see another doctor and surgeon for another opinion on that, whether or not there’s a potential course of action going forward. He’s in the process of doing that now.”
There’s some feeling around the organization that surgery will be necessary to improve the situation, but Falvey stopped short of that, saying only that there “could be the potential for a procedure to help alleviate” the problems with his thumb.
Max Kepler was not 100% for the ALDS, the Twins conceded, but he was healthy enough to play. After dealing with a strained-muscle shoulder injury that affected him in his upper back/rhomboid area, Kepler used rest to calm the problem late in the year.
“We did every possible type of imaging, had every possible type of assessment. He was healthy enough at the end to swing and feel mostly good. I don’t think he was at his best in the series against the Yankees,” Falvey said. “Clearly we know that wasn’t his full self, but it was good enough to play certainly and put himself in a position where he could go compete.
“The reality is that muscle strains take a while to heal, and they could ultimately take a couple of months to heal for certain types of muscle strains. We don’t believe there’s anything in there that’s problematic going forward. We believe rest is the best prescription here in the short term.”
Kepler will see another specialist just to be sure, Falvey said, but the team is confident that their newly signed right fielder will heal with time.
Buxton had labrum surgery and in the final days of the season, he was around the team in the clubhouse and moving around without his sling and brace.
Still, the rehab process will be”pretty significant,” Falvey said.
“The reason we did it at the time we did … was to give us as much offseason as possible to get him to be healthy. So far, so good, no setbacks with respect to that. So we fully anticipate he’s in a position where the month of January and going into February, he’s capable of doing a lot of things that would be more baseball-oriented, that would get him to be healthy come spring training, and hopefully we’re not behind when he shows up in Fort Myers.”
There’s some talk within the organization about getting Buxton to harness his defensive greatness and keep it on the field by dialing it back a little. It’s a complicated subject. Because part of what makes Buxton awesome with a glove on his hand is his willingness to go all-out to try to catch any ball hit in the air. But is one catch worth missing six weeks? And can you reasonably be asked to calculate that risk-reward proposition on the fly? The Twins will try to find out with Buxton, because they’re certainly aware of the value he provides when he’s available.
Baldelli said that if the Twins had been able to stave off elimination and push the series to a Game 4, his starter of choice was José Berríos, who was “ready to go,” he said.
“Do we know how long we were going to ride him in that game? No way to tell. No way to tell,” Baldelli said. “We were going to watch him go and see what happened but he was fully ready and mentally prepared and ready to pitch.”