Brookings Register | Minnesota Twins may compete in 2023 on one condition

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Pablo Lopez (49) throws in the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the New York Yankees March 24 in Tampa, Fla. Opener today against the Kansas City Royals. (John Raoux/AP)

By most reports, the offseason was a success for the Minnesota Twins.

They added enough depth to the cast that no Twins fan will ever hear the name Jake Cave again. They acquired expert weapons to throw into the starting rotation and have a bullpen full of homemade flamethrowers. They even had a rare moment of success the third time through the contract when they re-signed Carlos Correa.

Everything is there for the Twins to compete in 2023 – as long as they can avoid themselves.

The Twins have been relatively competitive since the Bomba Squad broke baseball in 2019, but they’ve always found a way to sabotage their hopes of making American League Central appearances themselves.

After winning their Premier League title and their second postseason appearance since 2010, the Twins were looking to take the next step and in January 2020 signed Josh Donaldson on the largest free agent deal in franchise history.

Things were looking good for the Twins before the COVID-19 pandemic cut the regular season to 60 games. Donaldson wasn’t a factor as the Twins struggled with injuries, but they still won the American League Central before being swept by the Houston Astros.

The following year, the twins were ready to try again. They added Alex Colome, JA Happ and Matt Shoemaker to free agency and later signed Andrelton Simmons to fill a need at shortstop. Once again the fans were full of optimism until Donaldson strained his calf in the season opener.

This stumbling around bases in Milwaukee was symbolic of the twins, who saw their free-agent acquisitions backfire one by one.

Alex Colomé failed later in the afternoon and became a liability in the back of the bullpen. Happ and Shoemaker posted ERAs north of 6am and were out of rotation at the close. Simmons had an attitude that made Oscar blush the grouch, and Donaldson turned out to be Jack Parkman’s second coming Oberliga II.

The twins knew they had to do something to be competitive in 2022 and they overhauled the roster again. Donaldson was sent to the New York Yankees and Gary Sanchez came back as part of the trade. All-star closer Taylor Rogers traded to San Diego for Chris Paddack and Emilio Pagan, while Sonny Gray was brought on to bring a veteran presence to the rotation. They even signed Dylan Bundy and Chris Archer to work under pitching coach Wes Johnson.

Everything was looking great… until the twins got in their own way.

Sanchez was nowhere near the phenomenon he seemed to be during his rookie year in 2017 while Bundy and Archer struggled to get out of the fourth inning. Chris Paddack suffered his second UCL tear months after going on the injured list with an elbow problem, and Pagan served homer after homer while Rocco Baldelli drew his pitchers in the fourth inning.

Even when the Twins tried to expand the team at the close, they got in their own way. Jorge Lopez was an All-Star closer for the first half of the season but allowed a 4.37 ERA in 22.2 innings after coming to Minnesota. Tyler Mahle was the biggest acquisition as a credible starter, but he only made four starts due to shoulder problems.

Not even Correa’s star power could pull the twins out of a late-season swoon as injuries piled up. The Twins were one game behind first place on Sept. 4 and went on the stretch 10-20 to finish 14 games behind division champions Cleveland Guardians.

Once again, the twins overtook their squad in hopes of a fight. Joey Gallo signed a one-year contract to bring more power to an offense that ranked 13th in homers and 17th in runs scored. The twins added Michael A. Taylor to be a suitable backup for Byron Buxton. They even traded fan favorite Luis Arraez for their opening day starter Pablo Lopez.

With each of these steps, one can argue that they will make a better team in 2023. The problem, however, is that the Twins have already started to get in their own way.

Buxton should be ready for Opening Day by the start of spring training but he will be the team’s designated batsman as he continues to recover from a series of injuries sustained last season.

Jorge Polanco and Alex Kirilloff should also be ready for opening day, but both will start the year on the injured list while recovering from their own season-ending injuries. This is of particular concern for Kirilloff, who is still struggling with racquet swing pain after his second major wrist surgery in the last two seasons.

The starting rotation appears to be the Twins’ best since the late 2000s, but is vulnerable to Baldelli’s fast hook. Comments from Gray late in spring training nearly got his manager to pull him through the order the second time, which could result in Baldelli calmly saying, “Hold my Gatorade” while heading to the mound in the fourth inning.

Even the Bullpen has some concerns as the Twins opted to bring back Pagan, who has served the third-most home runs of any reliever since the start of the 2020 season. (Fun Fact: Pagan’s fellow bullpen Griffin Jax is fourth on this list.)

With an 18-game postseason losing streak hanging like a dark cloud over the franchise, it’s easy to see why there’s hesitation in declaring the Twins a legitimate competitor. But some of the positives suggest they might have enough to make it work.

The elimination of the shift could help Max Kepler, who was so nervous about the infield shift that he openly wondered if he should have played football last summer. Gallo is another figurehead of the shift and could end up hitting .230 with 50 homers if he can reduce his colossal breath rate.

Byron Buxton is one of baseball’s most exciting players when he’s healthy, but he’s as impressive as he is elusive. Correa is now the face of the franchise, appealing to everyone from third baseman Jose Miranda to last year’s first-round draft pick Brooks Lee.

Joe Ryan and Jhoan Duran are two young arms who represent the future for the twins on the hill and mid-season reinforcements are not out of the question, whether it’s a close-of-trade takeover or the return of Royce Lewis from his second cruciate ligament rupture in a time span of 15 months.

All of this puts the Twins in the middle of a hard-fought race in the American League. The Cleveland Guardians and Chicago White Sox should be pushing for a division title, while the New York Yankees and Houston Astros lead the East and West.

The wild card race should be particularly intriguing as the Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles could all come from the east, while the Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels could push to the west.

It makes for an interesting dynamic as the twins head into this season, but it won’t mean anything unless they can’t avoid themselves.


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