Every offseason is important in the arc of a franchise, but the one coming up for the Twins feels particularly so. After an extremely fun 101-win season in which many things fell into place but still ended with postseason disappointment, here are the five biggest questions facing the Twins heading into 2020:
1) Is there a path to a No. 1 starter?
Phil Miller and I batted around this question a week ago, examining the plausible ways to add a front-end starter to a rotation in flux. Jim Souhan wrote about how he’s conflicted as to whether the Twins should try to spend big to solve the problem.
The answer to the big-picture question might prove to be the answer to some of the other five questions on this list, but let’s take a stab at it anyway.
The gist is this: Nobody in-house is trending toward being an ace, at least not in 2020. Jose Berrios has looked the part for stretches, but aces look the part all the time. You’d like to hope he becomes one, but hope is not a plan. Brusdar Graterol could develop into one, but he’s never thrown more than 102 innings in a professional season. Asking him to be an ace next year, at least from the get-go, is unreasonable. Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda pitched like top-of-the-rotation guys for parts of 2019, but both are free agents (more on that in a minute) and neither would make you feel great going against Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer.
But to be a true threat in the playoffs, the Twins need more top-end rotation talent. Three games against the Yankees notwithstanding, the Twins have an offense ready to contend for a championship. If they think there’s a realistic path to getting an ace — whether it’s spending big, making a splashy trade or unearthing a good pitcher and making him great — they need to go for it.
Names that intrigue me: Free agents Gerrit Cole (but good luck with both price and preferred team) and Zack Wheeler (but does he move the needle enough?) and trade targets Noah Syndergaard (but will the Mets ask too much) and Matthew Boyd (but does he really project as a No. 1 starter on a good team?)
2) What do they do about Odorizzi and Pineda?
If you spend big on a free agent or acquire a high-priced guy in a trade, can you still afford Odorizzi — who is in line for a multi-year deal worth at least $15 million a year? Did the way Pineda’s drug suspension (which will cost him the first 39 games of 2020) torpedoed the 2019 season mean he’s off-limits to re-sign, or is he an option still?
It sure seems like they need to keep Odorizzi for the sake of some stability, given that Pineda, Kyle Gibson and Martin Perez could all be on the way out. But that’s not always how shrewd mid-budget teams operate. The prudent move might be to work on unearthing the next Odorizzi and Pineda — relatively low-cost moves (Odorizzi via trade and two years of team control and Pineda via a two-year deal while he rehabbed an injury) before the 2018 season that paid off big-time for most of 2019.
3) Are they willing to deal Eddie Rosario or another core everyday player?
The fashionable thing is to want to trade Rosario and prospects for pitching help. I tend to think of Rosario as a heart-and-soul guy who has clubhouse value, doesn’t shy away from big moments and has upside beyond a poor on-base average. Translation: He might have more value to the Twins than any other team, and therefore might not be as much of a trade chip as you think.
But it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Twins dangle a position player for pitching help. Maybe it’s Rosario, but I can’t help but wonder if Jorge Polanco and Luis Arraez is a viable enough defensive combo up the middle for years to come.
4) Do they want to spend on the bullpen?
The good news for the Twins is that a lot of guys who emerged in the second half of the season as key bullpen pieces like Trevor May, Tyler Duffey and Zack Littell are inexpensive labor in 2020. To have a next-level bullpen, though, might the Twins need to dole out at least one expensive contract for a *dramatic pause* proven reliever?
5) Do they need to prepare for a less home-run dependent offense?
It seems increasingly clear that the baseball being used in the postseason is different from the one used during the home run binge of 2019. Even Twins catcher Mitch Garver came out of Twitter hibernation to comment on it.
Commissioner Rob Manfred is of the mind that the ball from 2019 needs to be changed going forward. What might that mean for the Bomba Squad, which set an MLB record with 307 home runs?