"There isn't any shortcut to get where we want to go."
Although the above quote from Terry Ryan was published back in February, the sentiment has been a common refrain for the Twins' general manager throughout his ongoing efforts to rebuild a broken product in Minnesota. No shortcuts.
And why not? It's a nice-sounding way to quell the growing calls from a disgruntled fan base for aggressive measures to restore the franchise to contention. Shortcuts sound bad. They sound lazy, and sloppy, and potentially harmful in the grand scheme.
But when you more closely examine that mentality, and the present state of the organization, it's awfully tough not to be disenchanted by the front office's apparent commitment to building internally and avoiding impactful additions that may prove costly.
In terms of position players, the Twins are set up to fill their needs from within the system. Whether in the outfield (Byron Buxton, Oswaldo Arcia, Aaron Hicks), the infield (Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Danny Santana) or catcher (Josmil Pinto) there are a number of candidates to lend support at the major-league level within the next few years. On the pitching side, the situation is considerably more dire.
Alex Meyer is presently lighting up radar guns in Arizona, touching 100 MPH with his fastball, and he is the shining beacon in the high levels of the organization. However, he also may be the lone hope for top-of-rotation support within the next several years. Kyle Gibson stumbled in his big-league debut and appears to lack dominant upside, though I remain confident in his ability to become a quality MLB player. Trevor May could be destined for the bullpen. Beyond those three, there aren't really any legit pitching prospects to be found on the farm above Single-A.
Names like J.O. Berrios, Kohl Stewart and Lewis Thorpe deservedly draw attention, but they're all teenagers and shouldn't realistically be expected to become rotation staples for four or five years, at least. So if indeed the Twins are unwilling to take "shortcuts" in the process of rebuilding their starting corps, we could be looking at a depressingly lengthy timeline.
Considering just how far behind the pack the Twins are lagging in the starting pitching department, it's hard to imagine Meyer and the existing mish-mash of iffy talent aligning to create a rotation that is any kind of true asset within the next handful of seasons. Outside help is needed. That might require taking steps that could be viewed as shortcuts. It might require an approach that Ryan has consistently eschewed: building through free agency.
Of course, there are other ways to acquire ready or near-ready pitching talent. We saw that last year, when Ryan dealt away Denard Span and Ben Revere to bring aboard two high-level prospects and an established guy in Vance Worley. But the Twins are now almost completely bereft of desirable trade chips at the big-league level, and giving up prospects sort of contradicts the whole rebuilding concept. Signing free agent talent costs nothing but money (and maybe a second-round draft pick, if you're ambitious).
Now, obviously, any move that endangers the club's long-term outlook would be ill-advised at this point. So Ryan should clearly avoid making sizable commitments to aging veterans that would restrict his ability to spend in future years. But there are plenty of 30-and-under pitchers entering the market, and the Twins aren't remotely close to hitting any sort of payroll ceiling, now or in the near future.
Ryan and his staff have frequently scoffed at the notion of taking shortcuts to address their problems, but the current layout of the organization calls for an influx of more immediate pitching help, if the Twins truly hope to field a high-caliber rotation within the next several years. As loyal as ownership has been to Ryan, Ron Gardenhire and the rest of the gang, I can't imagine they'll continue to stick with the current leadership if the team remains stuck in a holding pattern while waiting for teenagers to develop into major-league pitchers.
All of which reinforces my belief that the Twins will, indeed, spend this offseason.