The Twins should have a new manager within a couple of weeks, and a decision about Joe Mauer’s future could fall along a similar time line. But an organization seemingly stuck in neutral has bigger things to settle this offseason. So here’s the question: What is the Twins’ most important area of need that should be addressed heading into spring training?
First take: Michael Rand
I feel like I’m at a Vegas buffet here with so many glorious options.
The pitching rotation has some capable arms but legitimate questions after finishing No. 22 in starting pitcher ERA in 2018. Aside from Eddie Rosario in left field, is there any position player who qualifies as a sure-thing starter in 2019? And after being 14.1 runs above average on defense in 2017, the Twins slid back to minus-0.6 in 2018 according to FanGraphs.
But if there’s one area where the Twins have been lacking for too long and that could be an inexpensive fix, it’s the bullpen. With $23 million coming off the books from the Mauer contract, some elite back-end arms would mask a lot of shortcomings.
Twins beat writer Phil Miller: Whew, Mike, have you been watching the playoffs? Did you see Wade Davis (nine batters faced, four outs recorded), who is in the first year of a $52 million contract? Or Andrew Miller (five batters faced, one out)? Or the nightly misadventures of Craig Kimbrel?
I understand the thirst for a better bullpen — the teams with the four best bullpen ERAs all made the AL playoffs — but spending big bucks on an established closer is not a worthwhile gamble for a team this far from a World Series. Better to see if Trevor May can become “elite,” or if John Curtiss can turn his impressive minor league success into big-league saves, or if their scouts can uncover the next Corey Knebel or Josh Hader in a trade, the way the Brewers did.
What the Twins really need are answers, same as last winter. That’s a bigger shame than not following up their playoff run — the fact that they’re even less certain about Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano’s future now than they were last spring. It’s difficult to remodel a house when you don’t know what the foundation looks like.
Rand: Here’s where I should be clear that I’m not advocating they blow the whole budget on one or two guys.
But I would like two things: 1) free-agent signings more inspired than last year’s Fernando Rodney-led group and 2) do more with what they have.
You might have heard that Ryan Pressly became Mariano Rivera as soon as he was traded from the Twins to the Astros, thanks to Houston showing him — via analytics — he should throw his curveball more often.
Miller: Picking on the one Twins free agent who basically lived up to expectations? The next arrow is coming your way. And some folks at Target Field would tell you they gave Pressly similar advice about his curve — he just listened once he got to Houston.
Anyway, I agree about the bullpen, but to me, the most urgent need is sorting out the middle infield. The Twins got used to Brian Dozier averaging 32 homers with Gold Glove defense, and when he provided neither this year, the lineup wilted. Jorge Polanco is a solid hitter, but his inconsistent defense means the Twins must decide if he’s Dozier’s successor at second base. That means finding a two- or three-year bridge to Royce Lewis at shortstop.
Nick Gordon doesn’t appear ready, and he ultimately might not be a shortstop anyway.
Rand: So all they need to figure out is infield, outfield, starting pitching, relief pitching, young players and organizational direction. No sweat!
Final word: Miller
I’ve seen fantasy drafts with less uncertainty. We might not recognize the Twins next spring.