The Twins' Biggest Misstep in the 2020-21 Offseason
This misstep, above all others, seems to be the biggest issue for the Twins so far
Don’t get it twisted. I’m still convinced the Minnesota Twins are going to improve greatly before the end of the season.
I still think they can go 89-73 and win the division.
I might be the last person alive who still thinks this and isn’t employed by the team.
It would be easy to look at this current roster and declare that the team had made tons of mistakes in player acquisition this offseason — and honestly, I wouldn’t agree.
The Twins came into the season with depth. They came in healthy. They came in looking like a team who should challenge for their third American League Central crown in a row.
That ship has, shall we say, sputtered.
So let’s look back at the offseason and see where the Twins might have missed their mark.
Could the Twins have made Nelson Cruz a bit upset by dragging their feet to sign him? Maybe. But really, there’s no tangible proof of his discontent — or that he wasn’t also waiting to sign until he saw if the National League would institute the DH.
And if he’s upset, he’s got a funny way of showing it; he’s hitting .298/.352/.544 through 32 games entering Wednesday’s action.
Could the Twins have done more to address what has been a wretched bullpen thus far? I think fans are onto something with that, but as far as talented added I don’t really have a gripe. Alex Colome’s unraveling has been far from characteristic. And while it’ll take a while to get him back to good — thank you, Matchbox 20 — he hasn’t allowed a run in three May outings so far.
Baby steps, right?
People point to all the “waiver claims” the Twins made with their construction of this bullpen, but…Luke Farrell has thrown as many innings as Willians Astudillo and Brandon Waddell and Derek Law have thrown a combined 6.0 of the unit’s 116.1 innings this season.
Ian Gibaut, Ian Hamilton, Glenn Sparkman and anyone else in that boat hasn’t appeared in a game for the Twins yet — and will most likely be used like all teams use at least one bullpen spot. That is, cycling through intriguing arms, starting with low(ish)-leverage innings — except for Waddell, for some reason? — and letting the cream rise to the top.
Maybe Law will deserve higher-leverage spots in due time? But if not, he could be on the next Green Line train back to St. Paul for the Twins to shuffle in another reliever for a cameo.
And again, pretty much every team does this. They have a long guy and or a guy who can be, for lack of a better term, flushed to Triple-A or DFA’d to cycle through fresh arms so that the higher-leverage guys aren’t burnt in the eighth inning of a 7-2 ballgame.
One other gripe that I kind of agree with and voiced myself — but it hasn’t surfaced as much as we might have thought — was how the Twins addressed the back end of the rotation. I didn’t necessarily like or hate the J.A. Happ signing, but it’s hard to deny he’s been pretty solid.
I didn’t really get the Matt Shoemaker signing either, but for a couple million bucks it was largely inoffensive if nothing else.
Still, I thought between Happ and Shoemaker, one of those guys should have been a higher-upside play. A James Paxton, if you will.
Though if you’re Paxton, you won’t.
Last time out, I wrote about how the Twins had managed to avoid some of those pitching landmines. Would there have been a better fit for the Twins rotation? Sure. Would there have been a better use for $2 million? Maybe. But put those two together? Eh, I don’t know.
If they dump Shoemaker in a few weeks and go with Lewis Thorpe in the rotation, it’ll be “nothing wagered, nothing gained.” Honestly, the rotation has worked out acceptably with the Twins sneaking Thorpe in to make the only two starts their top-five starts didn’t make this season — and he looked pretty solid.
With Randy Dobnak struggling out of the gates a bit — not only in the big leagues but at Triple-A — it could be Thorpe who gets that first look when the spot opens, regardless of who it belongs to at present.
But all of this is an exhaustingly long way of saying I don’t think these are the biggest missteps the Twins made this offseason.
I was on watching this YouTube vlog the other day and it kind of started the idea percolating in my brain:
The Twins miss this guy — a lot.
It’s not just that Trevor May is a good pitcher. He’s got a 2.03 ERA through his first 13.1 innings with the Mets, hasn’t allowed a home run and has 18 strikeouts against just one unintentional walk.
But just watching him go through his day in this video, I can’t help but wonder if the team misses him from a clubhouse standpoint.
Reporters weren’t allowed in the clubhouse last season and still haven’t been this season, either. I haven’t been in the Twins clubhouse since the 2019 postseason ended.
So while I can’t really say one way or the other how the clubhouse dynamic works right now, I really do think there’s a chance they miss May’s personality.
Beyond that, I think sometimes it’s better to go to battle with what you know instead of the unknown.
Sure, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have proven to have a fairly good eye for pitching additions — Kenta Maeda last year comes to mind, especially — but I do think they may have outsmarted themselves a bit here.
Because they’ve become accustomed to waiting until late in the offseason to make their move on relievers — at least over the last few seasons — it appears as though they didn’t identify what is going to likely end up being a bargain in front of their very eyes.
May signed on Dec. 2 last winter, about five weeks after he was declared a free agent. He signed for two years and $15 million, which seems like a very good deal for the Mets when considering reliever prices over the last few offseasons — maybe more before the whole collusion bit — but honestly one that passes the sniff test no matter the marketplace.
Meanwhile, the Twins waited. And waited. And waited. And signed Colome on Feb. 12 — more than two months after May had signed. Now Colome has the track record of a really good relief pitcher — and the Twins got him at an astoundingly good price (one year, $5 million with a $5.5 million option — but I don’t think at his best he’s better than May, and certainly neither was paid to the point where a team couldn’t have justified signing both.
I’m not saying I don’t think the Twins have the structure in place to have a solid bullpen. It follows a very common pattern in today’s game. They have four guys they should be able to trust late in games — Tyler Duffey, Alex Colome, Hansel Robles and Taylor Rogers.
At any given time, each of these guys has had at least one high-profile flare-up that has caused fans considerable angst — and deservedly so.
But if those four don’t get lined up at some point this season, it won’t matter how many “waiver claims” the Twins shuttle through that first spot or two in the bullpen. The core four need to figure it out, or it’s just a shaky foundation under a poorly-built house.
Beyond that, Jorge Alcala, Caleb Thielbar and Stashak would appear to be a very solid second tier of relievers — and each of them have had their issues this season. Stashak has been hit pretty hard at inopportune times, Thielbar has been terrific with two outings that have gone sideways on him (where seven of the eight earned runs he’s allowed scored) and Alcala has been way, way too prone to left-handed hitters and the long ball.
When the core four aren’t working like they’re supposed to, the rest of the bullpen sags. Instead of using Alcala in a 7-2 game — leading or trailing — in the seventh, he comes in for the sixth inning of a 3-3 game and promptly allows a two-run homer to the defending MVP.
And I think some of this comes back full circle to not realizing the deal May ended up signing for would have easily been justifiable for this team. And again, it’s not as though he signed it in February like Colome did, and the team would have had to wait for his price to come down.
Instead, May, eager for one reason or another, was basically the first free agent to sign this offseason and still do so at a reasonable price. It wasn’t as though he was going to get Liam Hendriks money — and to be fair, we’re still not sure why Hendriks did either — but again, this just feels like an easily preventable misstep that came from being too devoted to a certain way of doing things in the offseason.
I still think the team can work all this out — it’s just an observation to this point on May 12.