The Twins might have to adjust.
The goal of the AL Central Division champions, entering the offseason, was clearly to upgrade the starting rotation.
They got Jake Odorizzi to accept a one-year, $17.8 million deal on a qualifying offer, keeping him with fellow All-Star Jose Berrios.
But so far, they have been unable to land the impact starter they seek. After a $100 million offer to Zack Wheeler fell short, they brought back Michael Pineda on a two-year, $20 million deal that gives them three-fifths of a rotation — once Pineda returns from serving the final 39 days of his suspension.
As the winter meetings begin Monday in San Diego, the Twins are running out of pitching options on the free-agent market. They might have to shift strategy and add more offense to a team that set a major league record with 307 home runs last season.
Improving the rotation is still priority No. 1, and there will be talks with agents and clubs with that goal in mind. But if that doesn’t work out … remember a comment General Manager Thad Levine made shortly after the Twins were ousted from the postseason, a quote looking more prescient by the day.
“The one thing we’ve learned over the years is that you can’t just have a Plan A,” Levine said. “Tomorrow’s Plan B becomes the next day’s Plan A, so we are going to lay out a lot of different scenarios, a lot of situations where we can try to address some of the deficiencies on our team, but we’re never going to stay true and married to just one plan.”
In recent weeks, the Twins have been in contact with agents for third basemen Josh Donaldson and Todd Frazier, as well as other corner infield candidates. The Twins did not tender C.J. Cron a contract, creating an opening at first base. The Twins could add a first baseman, or they could move Miguel Sano to first next season and bring in a new third baseman. The belief is that if they can’t upgrade the pitching staff the way they would like to, they just might add to an already powerful offense.
Donaldson, who turns 34 Sunday, batted .259 with 37 home runs and 94 RBI for Atlanta last season. Frazier, 33, hit .251 with 21 home runs and 67 RBI for the Mets.
As for the quest for a starting pitcher …
With Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole each on a path to land $250 million deals, the Twins were focused on the next tier that included Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Wheeler will sign with the Phillies for $118 million over five years, the same time frame the Twins offered. Ryu, whom the Twins were interested in out of South Korea before he signed with the Dodgers in 2013, prefers to remain on the West Coast. Bumgarner, at one time a dominant lefthander and a World Series legend, is receiving a lot of interest after a bit of a rebound season for the Giants.
If the Twins don’t land Bumgarner, the next group includes Homer Bailey, Tanner Roark, Wade Miley, Brett Anderson and Ivan Nova. Those are fine options for the back end of a rotation, but the Twins need to add someone as good as Odorizzi or Berrios, if not better. After Bumgarner, the free-agent market doesn’t offer that.
The Twins could look to swing a trade, and they are open to taking on salary to make a deal work. But the list of available arms in that field is difficult to determine; quality starters are coveted and in rare supply, and not many teams are looking to make deals that involve them losing a starting pitcher.
There are options for the Twins already in their system. Devin Smeltzer, Randy Dobnak and Lewis Thorpe are likely to compete for the final two spots. Sean Poppen, recovering from an elbow contusion, could enter the fray.
And there’s Brusdar Graterol. The 21-year-old top pitching prospect did not look out of place during his September call-up or during his one playoff appearance. What’s problematic is that he has never thrown more than 102 innings in a season. The Twins are open to using him in a multi-inning relief/spot starter role to control his workload, but he has been told to prepare for the season as if he is going to be a starter.
Another option could be a reclamation project for pitching coach Wes Johnson. The Twins tried it with Martin Perez in 2019, and he flourished before falling apart late in the season.
Twins officials will land in California on Sunday and set up their headquarters at the Hilton Bayfront. On Friday, the Twins agreed to a one-year, $4.25 million contract with free-agent catcher Alex Avila to back up starter Mitch Garver. That’s one item they can cross off their shopping list. They could also look into bullpen depth or pitchers with major league experience who can open the season at Class AAA Rochester and be ready if needed during the season.
It will be interesting to see if the pitching issue is solved, or if the Twins make a surprise move to beef up the offense. The winter meetings sometimes provide an unexpected twist.