As spring training kicked off in Fort Myers, Fla., for the Twins last weekend, expectations are as high as they have been for this club since the World Series victories of 1987 and 1991.
ESPN.com ran a list this week of the top clubs in baseball and had the Twins ranked fifth overall, trailing the Yankees, Astros, Dodgers and Athletics.
“With the acquisition of Kenta Maeda, the Twins appear to have four-fifths of their Opening Day starting rotation set,” the article said. “The top four figure to be Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Maeda and Homer Bailey. However, with Rich Hill injured to start the season and Michael Pineda injured, the biggest question mark for Minnesota will be that No. 5 spot.”
What makes this offseason so unique for the Twins is that after winning 101 games, the second most in franchise history, the club didn’t stand pat. They went out and made move after move.
General Manager Thad Levine said the biggest difference between this spring training and a year ago is the influence a new crop of veterans is having on the roster.
“We started bleeding that in last offseason with the acquisitions of guys like Nelson Cruz and Marwin Gonzalez, and I think we really furthered that investment this offseason by bringing in guys like Rich Hill, Josh Donaldson, bringing back Sergio Romo, bringing in Tyler Clippard,” Levine said. “I think what we’re seeing is just this great melting pot of our young, up-and-coming stars, marrying up with this veteran core of guys who I think have really done a nice job of evaluating the urgency to win. That urgency is now and the opportunity is here in front of us.”
One of the biggest reasons the team was so active was because they didn’t want to let their division rivals jump ahead of them.
“You can’t take anything whatsoever for granted,” Levine said. “We’re playing in a really tough division. The Cleveland Indians are the champions of this division for three of the past four years for a reason. Chicago has invested heavily in their team. I think the combination of those veterans married up with the young core of our team has really been a nice welcome change for this franchise.”
White Sox improve
The Twins were by far the most active team in free agency this offseason in the American League Central, signing seven players to major league contracts. The White Sox and Tigers added five players, the Royals added three and the Indians added two.
Chicago was the only club that made additions that could be considered as substantial as the Twins’ moves. They brought in former Brewers catcher Yasmani Grandal (four years, $73 million); Braves lefthanded starter Dallas Keuchel (three years, $55.5 million); Yankees first baseman Edwin Encarnacion (one year, $12 million); Cubs reliever Steve Cishek (one year, $6 million); and Brewers lefthanded starter Gio Gonzalez (one year, $5 million).
All told, the White Sox spent $151.5 million on those five players. Adding those veterans to a club that finished third in the Central last season with a 72-89 record with a lot of young talent is a big reason why baseball analysts believe they could be the biggest threat to the Twins.
Grandal is a two-time All-Star who has hit 101 homers over the past four seasons. Encarnacion is one of the best power hitters in baseball — he hit 34 homers between his time with the Mariners and Yankees — and he also has history in the division after playing two seasons with the Indians in 2017-2018.
Keuchel, 32, won a Cy Young Award in 2015 with the Astros and was once considered one of the best pitchers in the game, though he went only 8-8 last season with the Braves.
Cleveland lost a star
The White Sox are the only AL Central club that seemed to challenge the Twins when it came to improving their roster.
The Indians figured to be the top competitor to the Twins, but they brought in only two players on major league deals, signing former Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez to a one-year, $6.25 million deal and adding ex-Mariners outfielder Domingo Santana on a one-year, $1.5 million deal.
The club also traded away righthander Corey Kluber, their two-time Cy Young Award winner who has a career record of 98-58 with a 3.16 ERA, to the Rangers. If Cleveland struggles early, don’t be surprised if they end up trading star shortstop Francisco Lindor, who is making $17.5 million this season and will be an unrestricted free agent in two years.
Detroit made some moves, but most of them were minor — bringing in first baseman C.J. Cron and second baseman Jonathan Schoop from the Twins on one-year deals, along with catcher Austin Romine, outfielder Cameron Maybin and righthander Ivan Nova. The Tigers spent $19.4 million on free agents.
Kansas City did even less than Detroit, re-signing left fielder Alex Gordon while adding third baseman Maikel Franco and righthanded reliever Jesse Hahn on one-year deals. The Royals spent $7.6 million on free agents.
While Chicago spent slightly more than the Twins, Levine and Derek Falvey, the Twins’ chief baseball officer, were more aggressive than any front office in baseball this offseason. They spent $131.25 million to bring in seven veterans who will compete for playing time on a team building on last season’s success.
Sportingnews.com put out its offseason grades for all 30 MLB teams. They gave the White Sox an A, the Twins a B, the Indians a D and the Royals and Tigers imcompletes because of their lack of moves.
Looking at the Twins’ offseason, here’s what they wrote: “Minnesota is going to bank on bludgeoning teams to losses again this year, and with the addition of Josh Donaldson, that could certainly be the case. It was an effective strategy in 2019, but they’ll still need pitching this year. If they’re in the thick of the race, look for the Twins to ship off some of their farm system to get pitching help at the deadline.
“The trade for [Kenta] Maeda, though, is a very good one. … Getting Maeda on the cheap and under contract for the next three years is a win, knowing they won’t have to scramble to piece together at least one pitcher in the rotation moving forward.”