On the Monday after the conclusion of the 2016 World Series, the Twins formally introduced Derek Falvey (chief baseball officer) and Thad Levine (general manager) as their new baseball brain trust. That was Nov. 7, 2016, meaning we’ll hit the one-year anniversary on Tuesday.
The duo — 33 and 44, respectively, at the time of their introduction — had to hit the ground running with free agency starting almost immediately upon their official arrival. They spent much of the last offseason and even a lot of the 2017 season evaluating the organization both on and off the field.
As far as free agency went, the Twins under their new bosses were fairly muted. They made upgrading at catcher a priority, landing starter Jason Castro for three years, $24.5 million. They added backup catcher Chris Gimenez to further stabilize the position and to add another strong presence to the clubhouse. Veteran Matt Belisle arrived on modest deal but was their most notable pitching addition. Mostly Falvey and Levine stood pat — including a decision not to trade second baseman Brian Dozier.
It’s fair to say the subtle upgrades made by Falvey and Levine paid dividends, as did their wait-and-see approach that allotted plenty of playing time to developing young prospects. The Twins can feel a lot better right now than they did at this time last year about Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios, just to name four young players who were allowed to play through some growing pains.
That it all added up to a 26-win improvement, an 85-77 record and a surprise wild card postseason appearance doesn’t necessarily change the narrative heading into this offseason. But it does leave room to wonder: Players can start signing free agent deals as of 4 p.m. Monday. Will Falvey and Levine be more aggressive this year in their pursuit of difference-makers, particularly to help the pitching staff?
It’s a question with a lot of layers, not unlike a hand of poker. The hard part in making any sort of predictions is that Falvey and Levine have already proved adept at not tipping their hands.
Their decision-making process tends to be rather calculating, using a preponderance of evidence to strip away biases like emotion that can lead to bad moves. Still, 2018 is an interesting year for the Twins. There are already notions out there that Minnesota overachieved last year. Falvey and Levine will almost certainly block out that noise while understanding that the Twins’ true window for meaningful contention probably doesn’t start until 2019 or later.
But there is also something to be said for sustaining momentum. The 2015 Twins were ahead of schedule when they won 83 games and contended for a playoff spot. They left much of that young core intact for 2016 without much by way of reinforcements, and they slid all the way back to 59-103 — a season that paved the way for Terry Ryan’s exit and the new regime’s entrance.
Is making a bold play for a frontline starting pitcher like Yu Darvish — a free agency headliner despite his World Series troubles and someone with whom Levine is familiar from their time together in Texas — something the Twins would consider this year? Would they be better served making a bigger play for a proven bullpen arm like Wade Davis or Greg Holland — two relievers mentioned as possibilities by MLB.com’s Jim Duquette?
Or will they have another quiet offseason as they further evaluate young talent and wait for the likes of Joe Mauer and Ervin Santana, who will enter 2018 in the final years of expensive contracts, to come off the books?
If I had to guess, I’d say this offseason will more closely resemble last year’s approach than anything splashy. I could see the Twins spending a little money on the bullpen and maybe taking a flier on a low-cost starting pitcher with upside while perhaps adding one more veteran as a DH/bench bat.
But Falvey and Levine preached a patient approach when they were hired a year ago. It’s hard to see them rushing into any moves this offseason that might help the Twins win a couple more games in 2018 but could also negatively impact their flexibility in 2019 and beyond.
Starting this afternoon, though, we’ll start to get concrete answers.