Rocco Baldelli declared the Twins’ goal for 2020 — their first World Series in 29 years — before the team’s first full-squad workout last February. But the franchise’s ambitions were actually revealed over the previous two months, in the actions of the front office.
Nearly $3 million for reliever Tyler Clippard, who had playoff experience with the Nationals and Mets. A $5 million invitation to return to Sergio Romo, who owns three World Series rings. A pricey $17 million qualifying offer to Jake Odorizzi, who had blossomed into an All-Star the previous season. And $3 million guaranteed, plus the opportunity to earn another $9.5 million in bonuses, to a pitcher who was still rehabbing from elbow surgery — Rich Hill — all because he had proved in five different postseasons that he is particularly effective when championships are at stake.
Each received a one-year, we’re-storming-the-beach contract, with the expectation, to various extents, that they would spend six months sharpening their skills for an October offensive. Along with the four-year, $92 million fortune paid to embed Josh Donaldson at third base and the middle of the lineup, it was the clearest signal in years, perhaps since Jack Morris’ signing in 1991, that the Twins believed a championship was within reach.
“You acquire players to help you win games over a long season, but those who have been successful in the postseason, that’s a little extra value that they bring,” Falvey said a year ago after trading for Romo. “That’s worth having, too.”
But little went as planned for anyone, anywhere, in 2020, and the Twins felt it, too. Once the pandemic season ended, the Twins’ World Series offensive went nowhere. Those five key players, brought in as rocket fuel? They never even got off the ground.
Asked to keep a 1-1 game tied, Romo faced six Astros in Game 1 on Tuesday, gave up two singles and walked in the tiebreaking run.
And that’s the extent of their contribution. Donaldson, Clippard, Odorizzi and Hill never set foot on the field, Donaldson due to a nagging injury, the other three because the Twins fizzled so quickly, they never had an opportunity to help.
“This is disappointing, sitting here today. There’s no way around that,” Derek Falvey, the Twins’ president of baseball operations, said Thursday. “We had a number of goals, right? And even before the pandemic hit and we got shut down, we felt this was a really good team across the board.”
Each of the one-year mercenaries contributed during the regular season, so the Twins likely don’t regret the investment. But the four pitchers’ contracts expire this month, and all but Odorizzi are 35 or older, so some difficult decisions are ahead, for both players and team.
“I definitely don’t think you ever want to go into an offseason and just run things back and kind of view it as, ‘[We] hope that things are just better the next go-round,’” Falvey said. “So we have to think through that, you know, a lot.”