Playing Pepper 2018: Minnesota Twins

In 2009, before my second full season of blogging the Cardinals, I reached out to other bloggers to other teams to get insights on their clubs.  This year, instead of going through the teams alphabetically, we’ll approach it a little differently, spending a week with each division.  For the tenth straight season, get ready for the upcoming MLB season by playing a little pepper.  

Minnesota Twins
85-77, second in AL Central, lost in Wild Card Game
Website | Twitter

Last year’s Pepper

Every year there’s that team that surprises.  That team that improves faster than expected.  That team that makes people wonder, “What is happening here?”  Last year, that was the Minnesota Twins.  Losers of 103 games the year before, nobody would have expected them to be in the playoffs 12 months later.  Even mid-year there were questions, as they traded for then traded off Jaime Garcia within the span of a week.  Now the surprise factor is gone.  How will the Twins respond?  Let’s take a look at what our panel has to say!

Writer Site Twitter
Thrylos Tenth Inning Stretch thrylos98
Cody Christie Twins Daily NoDakTwinsFan
Maija Varda Twinkie Town KirbysLeftEye
Seth Stohs Twins Daily SethTweets
Collin Kottke CollinKottke.com CollinKottke 

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?

Thrylos: Yes it did. This has been the club’s best off-season since the one before 1991, and we know what happened then.

Cody: Minnesota had one of their best offseasons in recent history. Pitching was a weakness a year ago and the front office made this a priority. Trading for Jake Odorizzi and signing Lance Lynn have added depth to the rotation. The additions of Fernando Rodney, Addison Reed, and Zack Duke should solidify the bullpen. Logan Morrison also adds some much needed pop from the left-side of the plate. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were able to add all of these pieces with very little commitments beyond next season. After a surprise playoff appearance in 2017, the Twins seem destined for a return trip to October baseball. 

Maija: The Twins improved this winter. In fact, they just had their best offseason ever. That’s not saying much because the Twins, historically, haven’t been big players in the offseason, but man, they did well. They took advantage of both the slow market — waiting until the end to sign guys like Logan Morrison and Lance Lynn on cheap deals — and of teams (supposedly) “tanking” — trading their fourth? fifth? best shortstop prospect to the Rays for Jake Odorizzi. The team definitely improved, but more importantly, they did it with a bunch of smart, shrew moves that puts them in a great position both in the short term and long term.

Seth: It was a remarkably, painfully slow offseason, to be sure. Twins fans had some hopes for Yu Darvish which didn’t pan out, but all-in-all, it’s been an offseason that Twins fans should be happy about. They went after some veteran bullpen arms early and signed Fernando Rodney, Zack Duke and Addison Reed to help solidify things at the end of games. The took a two-year flier on Michael Pineda which could pay dividends late in 2018 and hopefully in 2019. And then to acquire a solid young pitcher like Jake Odorizzi for SS Jermaine Palacios was a very good trade. Signing Logan Morrison late just makes the Twins lineup even stronger. And don’t be surprised if the Twins add another starter before the season begins. Of course, losing shortstop Jorge Polanco to an 80-game PED suspension is not a positive for the Twins, but it makes their minor league signing of Erick Aybar potentially good.

Collin: I think the Twins had a very good offseason which has been a rarity in Minnesota. I don’t know if you could say that the Twins grabbed anyone that will drastically change the course of the season, but the combination of all the moves does improve the club. The additions of Lance Lynn, Jake Odorizzi, Addison Reed and Fernando Rodney should all help drastically improve the pitching staff. Logan Morrison is also an intriguing addition with his big bat.

C70: It would seem Joe Mauer could bring out a lot of conflicting emotions. What are your thoughts on him and will he be a lifetime Twin?

Thrylos: He can be a lifetime Twin if he retires after this season. I just hope that the Twins do not re-sign him, if he is not on the top quarter of first basemen, just because he is local. Now with Logan Morrison on board, this possibility has been mitigated a bit, I hope.

Cody: Mauer has made it clear that he wants to stay in Minnesota. His offensive numbers seemed to bounce back last season and he played Gold Glove caliber defense at first base. With a young family, the biggest question might be how much longer he will wants to play. Mauer has always been a polarizing figure for the casual Twins fan. His huge contract has always been a sticking point, especially after he was forced to move out from behind the plate. The truth is, he is one of the best players in the history of the Twins and I don’t think he will play a single game in another team’s jersey. 

Maija: Not sure what the conflicting emotions here are supposed to be. I feel absolutely honored and so lucky to have gotten to watch Joe Mauer’s entire career, and have a player like him on my team. I get teary-eyed just thinking about this. Joe has earned every single penny and more. As for him being a lifetime Twin, yeah. I can’t imagine him playing for any other team, and highly doubt he ever will. His grandparents would kill him.

Seth: He’s one of the Top 4 players in the 57-year Minnesota history of the Twins organization. Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett are the only players that could be considered better. He was still at his peak when he suffered his concussion in 2013, and the next three years were tough. But 2017 was a return to “normal” for Mauer, again hitting over .300 and getting on base over 38% of the time. I hope he will be a lifetime Twin. It would be unfortunate if he ends his career in another uniform.

Collin: Joe Mauer is a lighting rod throughout Twins Territory. It seems that you either love him or hate him, that’s mostly thanks to his contract. Personally, I like him, but he’s just simply not as valuable as his once was. Mauer has a really good glove, he should have been the Gold Glove winner at first last season, and still hits decently. If I ran the organization, this would be Mauer’s last season as an everyday player, though. I would love to keep Mauer as a great left-handed option off the bench for next season, but that will totally be up to Mauer. I don’t believe that Mauer will ever wear a different team’s uniform, because he is a Twins legend. Mauer will have a gate at Target Field dedicated to his #7 and that number will also be retired. That is usually something that the team reserves for players that make the Hall of Fame, but fellow hometown boy Kent Hrbek has paved the way for Mauer to get those honors.

C70: What’s one thing people may overlook (either positively or negatively) about this team?

Thrylos: That good young players improve. And the Twins are full of them.

Cody: Minnesota has a lot of question marks on the offensive side of the ball. Young players like Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler need to take the next step. All of them have shown flashes of being above average big league players. The coming season will be crucial for each of them to find consistency. Sano was an All-Star but is coming off an injury. Buxton suffered through a terrible start before turning it around in the second half. Kepler continues to struggle against lefties. There are other veteran players in the lineup but the Twins’ offense hinges on the young players. 

Maija: Probably still the youth. Though not as young as they were last year, people have been hearing names like Byron Buxton for so long that I think some forget he only just turned 24. Buxton, Miguel Sano, Jose Berrios, Jorge Polanco… These guys are good and young and hitting their prime, so it’s not totally crazy for them to make improvements. People were already trying to label Buxton a bust during his early season struggles at the plate last year, which was a bit crazy.

Seth: I happen to think that depth is the biggest asset for the Twins right now. They have a lot of talent offensively, but they have options behind their starters that could help in case of injury. Guys like Nick Gordon and LaMonte Wade are nearly ready. While they don’t have an “Ace” starting pitcher, they have a lot of good pitchers, and they have a handful of young pitchers on the cusp of big league ready (Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero, Zack Littell, Felix Jorge, Aaron Slegers, etc.). Same thing in the bullpen. While they added veterans, they have several young bullpen options (Alan Busenitz, John Curtiss, Gabriel Moya, Jake Reed) that should be part of the long-term future.

Collin: I think that people overlook how good the offense is for the Twins is. Minnesota found themselves around the top five in almost every offensive statistic in the American League in 2017 and that should only improve in 2018. Byron Buxton is improving at the plate with every game, Brian Dozier is an under-the-radar superstar (if there can be such a thing) and, frankly, there’s not really a spot in the lineup that should continually be a loss at the plate.

C70: Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the Twins to do well?

Thrylos: Hate to do this to him, but it has to be Jose Berrios. The only guy with close to top of the rotation stuff, because he is the one who will have to beat the other good team’s aces, if this team is to have a chance in the post-season.

Cody: Even with the addition of Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn, the Twins need a pitcher to lead the pitching staff. Jose Berrios has the potential to be an ace at the top of the rotation. His strikeout numbers haven’t followed him from the minor leagues but that could change in 2018. He’s pitched over 200 innings at the big league level with 188 strikeouts. In his age-24 season, the team will be looking for him to take on more of a leadership role. This could be critical for the Twins to make a return trip to the playoffs.

Maija: I should probably pick a pitcher, but really, Byron Buxton. He’s going to be out there every game, picking up all those fly balls Lance Lynn, Jake Odorizzi, and company are going to be giving up. Buxton is what makes the Twins special. He’s so fast.

Seth: While there are some hitters who obviously need to take a step forward in 2018, I think that pitching is always the key. Therefore, I’ll say that Jose Berrios is a guy who really needs to take another step forward in 2018. He is capable of being ace-like, and if he can do that, he can really help the Twins take that next step. 

Collin: Jose Berrios appears to be that key player. With the Twins really bolstering their starting rotation this offseason, it looks like the team could be really, really good if Berrios fully becomes the ace that he is capable of becoming. The rotation will be solid around Berrios with Lynn, Odorizzi and Ervin Santana (assuming he can bounce back from surgery), but it goes to a whole new level if Berrios can fully blossom.

C70: What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?

Thrylos: Challenging Cleveland for the Central and making the post-season either as a champion or as a wild card. Too hard to tell what happens afterwards. Will depend on what they do with pitching at the deadline and how wild cards like Trevor May, Phil Hughes and Michael Pineda do.

Cody: The AL Central will come down to the Indians and the Twins. Cleveland will likely end up with a win total in the mid-90’s. Minnesota likely doesn’t have the firepower to hit that mark. This team is still good enough to build on last year’s 85 win performance. My guess is 90 wins and another trip to the AL Wild Card Game. 

Maija: I’m a bit biased here… but I think the Twins are going to give the Indians a run for their money. Heck, I think they might beat the Indians. I mean, the Twins were in first place in the AL Central for nearly half the season last year, and they are a much better team now. There’s a lot of recency bias, I think, with the Indians. Anything can happen.

Seth: I think that the Twins have taken a step forward this offseason while I think Cleveland may have taken a partial step backwards. I think that the Twins will finish second to Cleveland while adding a few wins to their 2017 total of 85. If that’s the case, it sure would be nice to have a home Wild Card game!

Collin: It’s going to be a good year for the Twins. I’d predict a record of 90-72 with a probably second place finish in the American League Central, but good for the first AL Wild Card spot. If the Cleveland Indians falter for some reason, maybe, just maybe, the Twins might slide their way into the division crown.

C70: What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?

Thrylos: Who is the one player that nobody who is not following the Twins knows about who may make a huge splash this season?  Fernardo Romero.

Cody: Where’s the best spot to find out about prospects in the Minnesota Twins system? The Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook

Maija: Will the Twins re-sign Brian Dozier after his contract is up at the end of the season? This is a good question, and hard to answer in light of what happened this past MLB offseason with hardly any free agents getting big deals. I would say no, the Twins won’t re-sign him, because someone else will probably give Dozier a bigger pay day… but will they? I’m sure the Twins will at least extend him a qualifying offer, but again, considering what happened this offseason, I feel like more players are actually going to start accepting those offers. So, maybe, unless he has just an abysmal year.

Or maybe a question about Sano, but no one really wants to talk about Sano right now. Just kinda wish MLB would tell us how long his suspension is going to be already.

Collin: This is a very good question about a question with so many things going on with the Twins. The question I would ask is: how is the new brain-trust of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine doing running the baseball operations for the Twins? My answer would be: Very, very good! Along with their signings, they have pulled off some wonderful moves. I don’t fully understand the international spending money thing, but the Twins took advantage of having some and not being able to use it all by trading it for draft picks. The Twins essentially took nothing and made it into draft picks. Again, I don’t know exactly how all of that works, but that’s what I’d like my Chief Baseball Officer and General Manager to be working. Do things that I, a typical nobody, wouldn’t think of doing to make the team better.

It should be a fun season for the Twins and I thank all of those that spent some time helping us get a handle on them.  We’ll see how far that young talent takes them!

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NL Central Standings

TeamWLPct.GB
Brewers9667.589 -
Cubs9568.5831.0
Cardinals8874.5437.5
Pirates8279.50913.0
Reds6795.41428.5

Last updated: 10/01/2018

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