The Twins Need Pitching: A Simple Problem Without a Simple Answer
The most annoying problems have to be the ones that appear to have a clear solution, when in fact they really do not.
In my view, that applies to the chase for improved pitching for the Minnesota Twins.
In reality, it seems it should be easy to improve a pitching staff with the following rankings across MLB last season:
ERA - 4.83 (26th)
FIP - 4.66 (24th)
xFIP - 4.44 (21st)
K/9 - 8.4 (23rd)
K% - 21.7% (23rd)
HR/9 - 1.52 (28th)
But to this point in the offseason — whatever that means — the Twins have acquired just one pitcher who can be reasonably expected to join the pitching staff: Dylan Bundy.
And Bundy was worse than every single one of those marks listed above — every last one. Avert your eyes if you must, but this feels fairly apt:
That’s not to say Bundy can’t tap into the vast potential that made him a No. 1 prospect nor even the performances in 2019-20 that made him a legitimate mid-rotation starter, but it’s not the kind of move that’s going to assuage the fears of the average fan.
But why isn’t a fix obvious? It’s a wide-ranging dichotomy.
The easiest idea would be to simply pay up for a starting pitcher. That time has come and gone, for the most part, by now. Max Scherzer, Marcus Stroman, Robbie Ray, Kevin Gausman, Jon Gray, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood and quite a few others have already signed, leaving the market somewhat bare unless a team can be convinced Carlos Rodon will stay healthy or Yusei Kikuchi has another gear left upon leaving Seattle.
Free-agent signings that don’t happen for a team can cut a few different ways. You can convince yourself a player signed for too much, and you’re fine with the team not signing them. You can also say a player signed for the right amount of money, but not with your team because you’re only rooting for one team and a player has multiple suitors. Even if everyone offers the exact same deal, he can only sign with one team. It’s not exactly high-level physics.
But that’s the microanalysis of the situation. The macroanalysis is that when all those wires became connected, the final product resulted in Bundy — and nobody else.
And that, to me is a weird dichotomy. I can talk myself out of Scherzer at more than $40 million per. I can talk myself into Ray, Gausman and Stroman at what they got. And I can realize that while it’s possible as many as 15-20 teams would want to sign that trio at what they got, only three teams — or in this case, fanbases — are going to be pleased with the result, and perhaps three distinctly upset because they were in the market to bring back one of those guys, and fell short.
And you can sell me on the “it’s early” part of the offseason. Or at least, on Dec. 1 you could have. I get that. But it’s no longer early. We may still be in a holding pattern some 40 days or whatever into the technical “offseason” but whenever they return, it’ll no longer be early. In fact, it’ll be quite late.
The idea that the Twins can address pitching via a trade makes a lot of sense. They’ve upgraded reasonably via this avenue with trades for Kenta Maeda and Jake Odorizzi, among others, in recent seasons. Neither trade has come back to bite them, and in fact, the Odorizzi one brought back an even nicer return as Jermaine Palacios returned to the organization as a minor-league free agent and had a nice season in 2021.
But time will not be on their side. Even if the players association and owners were to ratify a CBA in the next 10 days — not likely — that still puts us on the cusp of February, which was already a dicey time to be trying to get players into camp in the first place. The Twins know this as well as anyone with their precursor to the 2018 season, which saw them bring in Lance Lynn, Logan Morrison and even Odorizzi himself very late in the game.
And maybe prices will drop on the players who didn’t sign in the mad dash before December. Maybe the Twins will pounce there again as they have in recent seasons. But why would the marketplace be less crowded when the teams — all 30 of them — have essentially been sitting on the sidelines twiddling their thumbs, aside from signing minor-league free agents.
What if prices actually go up in the mad dash to make sure everyone has a home when spring training opens up. By the way, if the CBA were to be ratified on or around Feb. 1, that would leave something like 2-to-3 weeks for player movement to happen before camps were originally scheduled to open up. Maybe it gets pushed back a week or so. I don’t know.
But it seems unlikely that frenzy will result in a clearance sale. It’ll probably be more similar to a pre-Christmas rush for the hot toy of the season.
And it’s acceptable to convince oneself that the Twins are in a good position internally for the future when it comes to pitching. The Twins anywhere from four to as many as seven pitchers in their top-10 prospect list — depending on which list you fancy — many of whom are big-league adjacent or not terribly far from it.
But you can’t bring a big-league rotation along all at once. At least, not really in this day and age. This isn’t the 1999 Minnesota Twins. These are the 2022 Twins, with $100 million freshly committed to Byron Buxton, two more years committed to Josh Donaldson and talent up and down the roster that’s seeing their primes potentially frittered away.
The pitching development was stunted badly by the cancellation of the 2020 minor-league season. The Twins supplemented that by bringing in Joe Ryan and Simeon Woods Richardson via trade and Chase Petty via the draft, but also fell significantly further backward when Jose Berrios was traded, Maeda got hurt and Michael Pineda left via free agency.
As things stand now, it’s Ryan, Bundy, maybe Bailey Ober and a bunch of guys like Randy Dobnak, Griffin Jax and Drew Strotman who all merit a longer look, but most certainly can not be expected to provide 120-150 innings of league-average performance.
Not wanting to spend big is acceptable. Not wanting to trade big prospects is fine too. Not wanting to spend a fair amount of money and years to bring in a guy who might not be worth it simply to fill out rotation spots — hello Ricky Nolasco — also isn’t particularly interesting. And you can convince me that doing something like that might block the path of one of the hotshot guys or even if another guy like Ober were to pop up in 2022.
But you can’t have it all come together like an avalanche at once. I’m not saying I don’t see a world where the Twins can’t trade for a guy like Sean Manaea, sign Kikuchi and put together a reasonably solid rotation in 2022.
I’m just saying — we don’t really have any evidence to believe that is coming. We haven’t seen, been told or been shown otherwise.
It’s not an easy thing to fix. But the burden of proof is on the key decision makers. Those who are rewarded handsomely for this level of power.
If Twins fans are upset with how the offseason has gone so far — CBA notwithstanding — I’m going to tell you right now: they’re right.