Finally, more than three months into the offseason, the Twins on Thursday held their first news conference of the Falvey-Levine era to reveal a major addition to this summer’s lineup at Target Field.
Anybody know if Billy Joel can pitch?
The 67-year-old singer will play Minneapolis on July 28, Twins manager Paul Molitor gamely announced, while the ballpark’s baseball tenant is in Oakland. And from the dearth of major transactions executed so far this winter by new baseball bosses Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, a docket of tranquility that includes one major league free-agent signing and zero trades, that squad of traveling Twins might bear a striking and perhaps surprising similarity to last year’s 103-loss club.
Not that anyone seems to mind.
“They never said they were going to make splashy moves. There was no expectation or instruction to make splashy moves just for the sake of change,” Twins owner Jim Pohlad said. “It’s more important to evaluate how to make the team more consistently competitive over the long haul, and I’m confident that’s what they’re trying to do.”
It’s not just the Twins who are proceeding cautiously, after all. The free-agent market has gathered no momentum this winter, so dozens of veteran free agents remain unsigned, one month before spring training camps open. And for all the big names rumored to be available in trade, including Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, only one major star — White Sox ace lefthander Chris Sale — has been dealt.
“Given the landscape of players that remain out there, I would expect more activity later this month as we get closer to spring training,” said Falvey, the new Twins chief baseball officer. “We’re in the same boat. We’re looking for opportunities late this offseason, and we have the flexibility to do that. Jim [Pohlad] has been very supportive of that. If an opportunity presents itself, we’ll be ready to strike.”
That could be a free agent, and Falvey said he is in touch with agents on a daily basis, monitoring whether contract demands are falling as players grow impatient. He’s willing to change the Twins’ offseason plans if he finds a bargain.
“The reality is, we’re standing here today with players still available in free agency that I don’t think any of us would have predicted in October,” Falvey said. “Things change.”
One thing that hasn’t: His intention to upgrade the pitching staff, which ranked 29th in the major leagues in ERA in 2016. The new regime might have been expected to take a sledgehammer to the team’s bullpen and perhaps even its starting rotation, but finding and acquiring better pitchers isn’t so simple, Falvey pointed out. So the Twins signed Jason Castro, a catcher renowned for his ability to get borderline pitches called strikes, quickly in the offseason, in hopes that every Twins pitcher will benefit. (Castro didn’t receive an introductory press conference, however.)
But as for supplementing the staff from outside? So far, the winter haul amounts to a handful of flawed or injured pitchers — Ryan Vogelsong, Nick Tepesch, Alex Wimmers — signed to minor league contracts.
Why stand pat, essentially? Because there isn’t much else available.
“Every free-agent market presents its own challenge. It’s supply and demand, and the supply doesn’t always match up with what our fit is,” Falvey said. “We knew going into the offseason there was the potential we would not be active early on with the pitching group. But there remain some names out there.”
And the Twins have hopes that the staff’s greatest improvement comes from within. “There are a lot of guys [on the staff] who have only a small amount of experience, and we all know that experience is one of the most important factors in a player’s maturation into a productive major leaguer,” Molitor said, with youngsters like Jose Berrios, J.T. Chargois and Trevor May expected to benefit from 2016’s hard lessons. “It’s not far-fetched to expect better results.”
Twins add catcher
The Twins’ spring competition to back up Castro became a three-man battle on Thursday when Chris Gimenez, a veteran of four major league teams, agreed to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.
The 34-year-old Gimenez, who hit .216 with four home runs in 68 games last season for Cleveland, joins John Ryan Murphy and Mitch Garver in a three-way race for a backup job. Gimenez, 34, has played for the Indians, Mariners, Rays and Rangers, batting .218 with 15 home runs in 289 games.