Given the Twins' intent to lower payroll for the 2024 season, it came as no surprise the Twins weren't finalists for free agent pitchers Sonny Gray or Kenta Maeda as they found new homes.
Gray, who finished runner-up in the American League Cy Young voting, got a three-year, $75 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday. Maeda was set to take a physical to complete his two-year, $24 million deal with the Detroit Tigers.
The Twins will recoup a compensatory 2024 draft pick for Gray, likely No. 33 overall, but it leaves their rotation with some uncertainty behind expected Opening Day starter Pablo López.
After the starting rotation carried the Twins to a division title and their first playoff series victory in 21 years, the Twins retain a projected rotation featuring righthanders López, Bailey Ober, Joe Ryan, Chris Paddack and Louie Varland.
"It's not just a pitching, pitching, pitching focus, though we're always focused on how do we add pitching, how do we develop it," Derek Falvey, the Twins' president of baseball operations, said at the General Managers Meetings earlier this month. "We do feel we walk into this offseason, maybe, with a better overall pitching group than we've walked into any of our recent offseasons."
Acquiring a frontline starter to replace Gray will be difficult, and it may be unlikely. Former Twins pitcher Lance Lynn, who had a 5.73 ERA in 183 innings last season, netted an $11 million deal with the Cardinals to show an example of the prices in free agency. Lynn gave up a league-leading 44 homers.
Another former Twins starter, Kyle Gibson, joined the Cardinals on a one-year, $12 million deal last week after a strong season with the Orioles.
There are some top pitchers available on the trade market, like Tampa Bay's Tyler Glasnow, Chicago's Dylan Cease and Milwaukee's Corbin Burnes, but general managers lamented the exorbitant prices to acquire pitching at last season's trade deadline.
"It's probably a seller's market the way it feels right now," Farhan Zaidi, the San Francisco Giants' president of baseball operations, said a few weeks ago.
The Twins figure to be active on the trade market with Kyle Farmer, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler and Christian Vázquez as their top trade candidates, but none carry a tremendous amount of trade value to headline a deal for a top pitcher. Polanco likely commands the most interest among that group because he's a switch hitter with power and there is a club option in his contract for 2025, but he hasn't played more than 105 games in either of the past two seasons.
Adding López required parting with Luis Arraez, who had three years of team control.
The Twins' highest tier of prospects includes outfielder Walker Jenkins, shortstop Brooks Lee and center fielder Emmanuel Rodriguez. Lee finished the season at Class AAA and could debut next summer. Rodriguez was recently added to the 40-man roster, though he may be a year away from contributing to the big-league team.
"I feel good about our farm system, but we also want to keep a lot of that," Falvey said.
If the Twins don't add a frontline starter, they're banking on their internal options filling the void. The Twins are optimistic about Paddack, especially after what he showed in the bullpen, but he hasn't thrown more than 108 innings in a season since 2019.
"You're always going to have some uncertainty in the group that you walk in with," Falvey said. "Last year people weren't sure about where Sonny was. People weren't sure about where Pablo was, if he could take that next step. Joe Ryan was probably the most promising coming off of his previous year. Bailey was a question mark. When we walk into the season, we expect that there will be some uncertainty on the roster. But I feel really good about the group that we're already walking in with."
The Twins prioritized depth last season and they're expected to add at least one pitcher who can compete with Varland for the fifth spot in the rotation. David Festa, Brent Headrick and Simeon Woods Richardson loom as Class AAA depth and they plan to keep prospect Matt Canterino, who missed the 2023 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, stretched out as a starter.
It wasn't just depth that spearheaded the Twins' rotation last season. Gray played a major role in the regular season and playoffs, and now the club will move ahead without him.
"There are interesting conversations to be had on the trade market and otherwise," Falvey said. "I think with where our team is right now, I say this from time to time, the vast majority of our production is going to come from what's already on it ultimately."