The Athletic does power rankings like a crack head does crack. They’re addicted. Much like Oregon, I’m all for feeding into it too. It helps me compare my expectations with others around the sports media world. And sometimes, like today with the Minnesota Twins, they make me re-examine my outlook completely.
Today, the major online subscription-based sports outlet released a well-written (per always) power rankings piece on the MLB. I almost flipped past the Twins because I wasn’t expecting to see them at #6. Nick Groke wrote the article.
2020 record: 36-24, wild-card loss
What could make them rise: Bring back Rich Hill for the fun of it
What could make them plummet: Doing something rash
One big question: Will they field a DH or leave that spot to rust?
Minnesota has a thousand free agents to worry about, give or take. But that should offer the Twins an opportunity. If owner Jim Pohlad doesn’t cheap out and overstate his 2020 losses — and he’s already hinted he won’t — the Twins have room to get even better. Their foundation is set. If they’d just signed 2017-18 Marwin González instead of his 2019-20 version, maybe they’d have found an opportune spark here or there. They can take that kind of swing again this winter, maybe with a Tommy La Stella type or maybe actual Tommy La Stella.
They had the best pitching staff in the American League, led especially by the best bullpen. So what did Twins fans complain about on Twitter this year if not for the bullpen, like every other fanbase? What’s left after that? There’s so much going right in Minnesota we can start to have some fun, just for the oddities. We can root for Rich Hill and Nelson Cruz to return, just so the Twins can brag about the best 40-something tandem in baseball.
I wish Twins fandom was as stress-free as Nick Groke believes it is
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could, as Minnesota Twins fans, breathe an easy sigh of relief this offseason? It’d just tickle me pink if our favorite baseball team was coming off of another deep playoff run where our offseason moves paid off in the ultimate way, finally ending our 479-year playoff losing streak… but that’s not reality.
Groke glazes over one of the unknowns Falvine faces, that makes me nervous. A lost or aging Nelson Cruz is nothing to joke around about, like Nick does in his article. Cruz has single-handedly drug this Minnesota offense to victories during his first two years in a Twins uniform. That especially held true in a 60-game 2020 season, when the rest of the lineup was riddled with injuries and hitting slumps.
But he’s right about one thing… DH is the least of our worries.
Groke talks about the Minnesota Twins pitching staff, both starters and bullpen, like they just Tampa Bay Rays’d us to the World Series.
I’m glad the Twins pitching numbers looked good through 60 regular season games in 2020… but there are a lot of questions that need to be answered before we crown pitching as a strong-suit for this team in 2021.
As of now, Baldelli will likely throw Kenta Maeda out for Opening Day 2021. Jose Berrios will follow, and then into Big Mike Pineda. On paper, that looks solid, especially if you can coax back Jake Odorizzi for another season (since he won’t get any big offers in a dead free agency this offseason).
Even if Maeda does regress after his Cy Young candidate 2020, I agree that the Twins starting pitching is enough to lead them to the playoffs. Without the addition of a proven playoff shutdown-type guy, though, that’s all we know about this starting staff. They’ll help get us to the playoffs but you’re on your own after that.
I’d feel good about the Twins bullpen, if we knew it was coming back for 2021 in-tact. That’s far from a certainty, however. 3 of the Twins’ 5 most trusted bullpen arms are currently set to leave in free agency (Trevor May, Sergio Romo, Tyler Clippard).
|Relief Pitcher||Contract Status||2020 Innings||Leverage (1.0=AVG)|
|Taylor Rogers||Arbitration (Yr 3)||20.0||1.95|
|Tyler Duffey||Arbitration (Yr 2)||24.0||1.43|
|Matt Wisler||Arbitration (Yr 2)||25.1||1.09|
|Trevor May||Free Agent||23.1||1.39|
|Sergio Romo||Free Agent||20.0||1.78|
|Tyler Clippard||Free Agent||26.0||1.22|
|Zack Littell||Free Agent||6.1||0.51|
If Falvine turns around and signs May, Romo and Clippard to new contracts before 2021 starts then I won’t be worried about the bullpen either. Until then, there’s plenty to be nervous about, since it currently only houses TWO pitchers that the Twins deemed “high leverage” last year.
I’m worried about Josh Donaldson and his calf problems. We paid this dude a lot of money to come and improve our middle of the lineup, offensively, and our infield on defense. He can’t do either if h’s in the training room and I’m starting to lose confidence in his abilities at 3rd base, even when he does play.
When the baseball is hit to Josh Donaldson, he will make the play more often than just about any 3rd baseman in baseball. He has an elite glove. His range, however, is one of the worst across baseball. Josh isn’t going to go barrelling after foul fly balls anymore and he has talked about how much he dislikes shifting on defense (even though the Twins shift more than just about any team in the league).
Donaldson needs to prove he can stay healthy next season and I’m not sure how we fix the issues on defense, which are only going to get worse as he ages over the next few years, even if he does remain in the lineup.
Plenty of Positives
The goal of this blog wasn’t to throw Minnesota Twins fans into the dumps over their baseball team. I am excited about the future of this squad and I think they are playoff bound again in 2021.
They are loaded in the outfield with power-hitting young bats that could continue the “Bomba Squad” slogan for a decade. Some of those names will be added to a roster already riddled with young budding stars, who aren’t due massive paychecks for a few years still.
This blog isn’t “doom or gloom” and nobody in the Twins fan base should feel that way. But when you currently look at next season, there’s no chance anyone should rank the Twins as the 6th-best team in all of Major League Baseball, until a few of these questions are answered.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan