The offseason officially ended today as Twins pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in Fort Myers.
After a relatively slow start, it ended up being the most eventful offseason in years for Minnesota. The Josh Donaldson signing and Kenta Maeda trade were both filled with plenty of drama. Conflicting reports seemed to surface daily, and in both cases, the Twins appeared to be out shortly before sealing the deal. In landing Donaldson and Maeda, they capped off an offseason that saw them add a combination of elite talent and useful depth.
Before Judd Zulgad, Derek Wetmore, Jake Depue, and Phil Mackey hand out offseason grades, here’s a brief recap of the Twins’ moves.
3B Josh Donaldson
SP Kenta Maeda
SP Jake Odorizzi (accepted Qualifying Offer)
SP Rich Hill
SP Michael Pineda
SP Homer Bailey
SP Jhoulys Chacin (minor league deal)
RP Tyler Clippard
RP Sergio Romo
RP Matt Wisler
C Alex Avila
1B Miguel Sano (three years/$30 million)
SP Kyle Gibson
SP Martin Perez
RP Brusdar Graterol
1B C.J. Cron
2B Jonathan Schoop
C Jason Castro
To the grades…
The Twins entered the offseason looking to add a top-line starting pitcher in free agency (Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner or Hyun-jin Ryu) but fell short in that pursuit. Nonetheless, the past three months were far from a failure for Derek Falvey and Thad Levine.
The money that was supposed to go to Wheeler instead went to an upgrade at third base and another big bat in veteran Josh Donaldson. That enables Miguel Sano to move to first base and makes the lineup that much stronger. A bullpen that already appeared to be strong got better with Tyler Clippard coming aboard.
Finally, completing the trade for Kenta Maeda on Sunday will cost the Twins a top prospect in Brusdar Graterol but gives Minnesota a solid No. 3 starter behind Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi. We’ll have to wait-and-see how the other additions to the starting staff play out. Rich Hill could provide a big boost when he returns in June or July but can the soon-to-be 40-year-old lefthander stay healthy? Do a few more adjustments to Homer Bailey make him a consistent starting pitching again?
The Twins love to shop in the used-car-lot of pitching.
If you’re a Twins fan you should be happy that it appears the brass realizes this team can win now and getting swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Yankees isn’t good enough. Nonetheless, the fact the Twins failed on what was their No. 1 priority (a top starting pitcher) can’t be ignored.
More on the Twins in a minute. First we have to point out that we’re grading on a curve here. No easy passes or aces handed out.
Fitting, actually, because that ace would have been the No. 1 stated goal if you asked the front office on truth serum in early November. Reports cards? No easy aces? Do you get it?
OK, so they pursued Zack Wheeler and that fell through. I don’t honestly blame them too much for that one. And I think it’s a pretty big bet that the Phillies are making. The Twins’ bet, meanwhile, looks like quantity over top-end quality. I count Rich Hill, Jake Odorizzi, Kenta Maeda, Michael Pineda and Homer Baily as meaningful pitching additions. Still, I look at some of the additions for their AL competition and I adjust the grade down a letter.
The Yankees added Gerrit Cole. The Rays reshuffled, and the Red Sox spilled coffee on themselves first and then eventually stepped backward on purpose. Texas got quite a bit better; the Angels added Anthony Rendon. The Indians traded away Corey Kluber, though they won 93 games last year and should contend with some luck. The White Sox added a bunch of wins to their roster — Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Encarnacion.
The point is that the American League is tough and the Twins will need a bunch of good performances to once again be one of the league’s best teams. I like each of the aforementioned pitching moves individually. Collectively, I think they create a deep pitching staff with a bullpen that I already viewed as a strength.
It’s hard to not like the Josh Donaldson signing from a Twins perspective. I will say, since I don’t think it gets mentioned enough, that they’re taking a real risk with signing a great player in his mid-30s. Maybe Donaldson is the exceptional athlete who can, like his new teammate Nelson Cruz, defy your expectations of a pro baseball player at that age.
It’s hard not to like what the Twins have done this offseason.
Donaldson adds an elite bat to what already might be the best lineup in baseball, and just as importantly, stabilizes an infield defense that was looking shaky. They didn’t get a frontline starter (i.e. someone who could slot in above Jose Berrios), and it’s fair to criticize them for that, but they made up for it by adding a ton of quality depth.
To go deep in October they might need a true No. 1. It’s clear, though, that the front office is all-in on 2020, and if they feel the starting staff isn’t October-ready at the trade deadline, I think they’ll trade top-5 prospects to get an elite arm. In the Maeda trade, they’ve shown their willingness to do that.
Losing Graterol hurts the ‘pen in the short-term, and depending on how he develops, it could look like a really bad trade in three years. I don’t care. They went perhaps a bit out of their comfort zone and sacrificed part of the future to address a need in the present. That’s what you do when you’re trying to win a World Series. In Maeda, they’re getting a pitcher who will slot in between Berrios and Odorizzi; someone you’d feel comfortable starting a playoff game. The value Maeda provides to a contending team is enough to justify giving up a high-upside pitching prospect.
Hill is a huge wild card, but a gamble worth taking. If he can’t return from elbow surgery, they’ve essentially lit $3 million on fire. If he does return, though, and pitches the way he’s capable of when healthy, he could legitimately start game one of a playoff series. When he’s healthy, his numbers are right there with the best pitchers in the game. Pineda, Bailey, and Chacin provide much-needed starting pitching depth, and Clippard and Romo add to a bullpen that has a chance to be a real asset in 2020.
Bottom line: After playing it conservatively at last year’s trade deadline, Falvey and Levine delivered on their promise to strike when the winning window is open. They didn’t get a No. 1 starter, but they made a 101-win team significantly better, and have positioned the team as a legitimate World Series contender with the prospect capital to add even more mid-season.
For the first time in franchise history, the Twins spent $100 million on a free agent — former MVP Josh Donaldson, who still has one of the best bats in all of baseball, and who will upgrade the Twins’ defense by between 15 and 30 runs at third base.
The Twins also brought back two of their three best starting pitchers from last year’s 100-win team — Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda — and added at least two playoff-caliber rotation arms in Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill (provided Hill returns in the second half of the season, coming off elbow surgery), plus a quality reliever in Tyler Clippard.
They did all of these things while holding onto all but one of their top prospects — all of which are available as trade chips between now and July 31 to use as additional potential trade chips.
Their lineup and bullpen are among the best in baseball. Their starting rotation is formidable. And their prospect pipeline remains among the strongest in the game as well.
It’s tough to draw up a better offseason.