Last winter, the Twins front office invested in affordable power. They took the money they had been paying Joe Mauer and applied it to Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop, who produced 89 of their big-league record 307 home runs.
The Twins’ brain trust believed that adding power was the most efficient way to improve, and they were proved right, in part because of the efficacy of their signings, in part because of the anti-gravity materials woven into the baseballs used in 2019.
This winter, the Twins will again try to build a winner on a limited payroll, knowing they desperately need starting pitching. How do they proceed?
The answer might lie in the baseball itself. If MLB reverts to a more traditional ball, these types of players will become more valuable:
• Pitchers who induce batters to put the ball in play.
• Position players with speed who are quality fielders and good baserunners.
• Sluggers whose drives will reach the seats regardless of the nature of the ball.
The game has been ruled by power bats and power arms in recent years, and truly powerful sluggers and hard-throwing strikeout pitchers will always excel. But those hitters propped up by a bouncy ball could falter, and those pitchers who saw pretty good pitches land in the seats with regularity could become much more useful, and if more balls are put into play, speed in the field and on the bases will become more important.
This is the winter the Twins should gamble on pitching savvy and hitting experience.
Gerrit Cole is represented by Scott Boras and reportedly wants to pitch on the West Coast. Stephen Strasburg is expected to opt out of the last four years and $100 million on his contract, so he, like Cole, will be seeking $30 million a year or a contract that will extend into his mid-to-late 30s.
Whether you want to blame Pohlad pursestrings or the stated front office objection to spending too high a percentage on one player, the Twins are highly unlikely to compete for those players.
They need to start by signing Jake Odorizzi. He pitched well in 2019, and showed the guts to pitch well against the Yankees in an elimination game.
Of the expected free-agent starting pitchers, Odorizzi ranks fifth in WAR (wins above replacement player) and Kyle Gibson ranks 11th. That’s an indication that there aren’t many sure-thing pitchers available at reasonable prices.
Perhaps the best secondary target is lefthander Hyun-Jin Ryu, who has been spectacular for the Dodgers the past two seasons. He is soon to be 33, so he might be able to land a long-term contract. He is also the kind of pitcher who winds up being far more expensive than initially expected because of the demand for quality lefties.
The Twins might have to trade to fill their needs. For all of their hitting talent, they have few players who have proved they belong in the middle of the order for a championship team.
Can you imagine many current Twins taking the kinds of at-bats that Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto did against quality pitching while winning the World Series? Perhaps only Cruz and Luis Arraez seem likely to perform like that, and Cruz is 39 and Arraez is likely to be a leadoff hitter and not necessarily a run-producer.
Cruz will regress at some point. Eddie Rosario’s on-base percentage is poor. Miguel Sano strikes out too much. Max Kepler dramatically improved his power production but will need to improve his on-base percentage to be a well-rounded hitter.
With Royce Lewis winning the MVP award at the Arizona Fall League and Alex Kiriloff closing in on the big leagues, the Twins will soon have a surplus of position players.
The Twins could strengthen their hand by signing a veteran position player who could bat cleanup, then trade a few of their younger players.
The lineup that set the all-time home-run record this year might not exist by the time the Twins report to spring training. That might be a good thing in the year 2020.