The narrative of the 2019 Twins season is one fueled by bombas, better-than-expected performances and a fierce division race in which Minnesota fended off Cleveland to win the AL Central with 101 wins.
The temptation is to imagine all those things happening again if the Twins simply run it back with the same cast of characters. That might work; but it’s probably a more dangerous thought than it is a productive one.
If we’re being honest, one of the main elements of 2019 was fortune — showing up, in this case, in Cleveland’s terrible injury misfortune. The White Sox are being conjured up as a trendy challenger to the Twins in 2020, but Cleveland is absolutely still the biggest challenger. In betting markets, the Indians have better World Series odds than the Twins. They won 93 games last season, and that was after a 29-30 start unlikely to be replicated.
And if we look at pitching projections, the outlook is even more grim for the Twins. You’ll find four Cleveland starting pitchers — Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco — among the top 30 in projected WAR on FanGraphs.
That assumes good health for Kluber and Carrasco, who combined to make just 19 starts last season while dealing with serious ailments (Carrasco’s the most serious, of course, as he battled leukemia). It also assumes Cleveland doesn’t trade Kluber — though even if they did, young arms Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale showed they are rotation-ready last season.
Projections aren’t everything, but it’s worth noting all four of those aforementioned pitchers show up on the list before the first Twins starter (Jose Berrios at No. 38).
The Twins this offseason have done a nice job securing Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda at reasonable prices and terms; those two will cost about $25 million combined in 2020 (after factoring in Pineda’s pro-rated deal at $7.6 million while he misses 39 more games), and the Twins have ensured they will have their three best starters from 2019 in the rotation for most of next year, barring injuries or other setbacks.
But that doesn’t feel like it’s going to be enough to fend off Cleveland again — particularly when we remember that Kyle Gibson and Martin Perez offered credible work for much of last season at the bottom of the rotation while the Twins built a huge division lead.
It’s much easier to conceive of how you would spend someone else’s money than your own, and Twins fans have no shortage of opinions about how to spend the Pohlad family’s money.
This, though, feels pretty simple: Minnesota has created the payroll flexibility to add to its top three starters. If this offseason ends without an additional top-end starter joining the mix, it will be a huge disappointment that significantly hinders the Twins’ chances to win the AL Central again.