The good news about the Twins’ 8-4 wild-card loss to the Yankees is that it reinforced the things we learned about the Twins during the 2017 season.
The positive: The Twins already have an above-average lineup filled with plenty of players who take good at-bats and should continue to improve. A lot of those same guys are also plus defensive players and transformed the Twins from a bad to good defensive team.
The negative: The Twins have plenty of candidates to pitch the third game of a playoff series or the seventh inning of a big game, but not enough high-end arm talent to compete in a meaningful way with the best teams.
That makes their offseason shopping list easy: pitching, pitching, pitching. But that makes their offseason shopping list hard because they want and need the same thing as pretty much every other team. Here are some questions the Twins will need to answer:
What takes priority — starting pitching or the bullpen? Baseball has no salary cap, so a fan might make the argument that this doesn’t have to be a choice. Spend! Buy all the starters and all the relievers.
You can argue that the Twins artificially put a cap on their own spending, but that doesn’t change what we expect them to spend.
So they will make some choices. I asked on Twitter whether fans would rather have one top-end starter or three very good relievers, and the vast majority of you picked the bullpen trio.
I tend to agree. If there is going to be a priority in 2018 and beyond, baseball has evolved into a bullpen game.
Who is out there?
MLB Trade Rumors has a good list of pending free-agent starting pitchers and relievers. Guys like Jake Arrieta (Cubs) and Yu Darvish (Dodgers) are top-line starters, and there are other names to consider as well. In the bullpen, a guy like Wade Davis (Cubs) should fetch a lot of money but could be worth it.
But that pool, particularly meaningful starters, will probably get pretty shallow pretty fast when free agency begins after the conclusion of the World Series.
Does a trade make sense?
The Twins have assets, particularly in the middle of the infield. If, say, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine sign Brian Dozier to an offseason extension, could a prospect such as Nick Gordon become the centerpiece of a trade that nets a front-line starter from a rebuilding team?
Is now even the time to make a big move?
The questions above led to this larger philosophical question.
The Twins’ move from 59 to 85 victories created a new set of expectations, but I’m not sure Falvey and Levine think it accelerated their timeline.
They could stay the course and hope that such in-house candidates as Jose Berrios, Stephen Gonsalves and Co. become consistent top-end starters and that two or three hard throwers in the bullpen emerge or come cheaply.
That said, they are also in somewhat of a competitive sweet spot. Some of their best everyday players are still bargains because they are so young and under financial team control.
It will be fascinating to watch how it all unfolds, particularly after a relatively quiet first offseason under the new regime and a surprising 2017 campaign.