If we’re closing in on the regular season, that must mean it’s time to play some pepper! For the 12th year in a row, I’ve contacted bloggers and writers from around baseball to talk about the team they hold dear. It’s a good way for folks to get the pulse of other teams around MLB and see what other fanbases are talking about. It’s a tradition unlike any other (because who would want to copy it): it’s time for Playing Pepper.
These answers were obtained before (or very soon after) spring training was halted and Opening Day was delayed. Obviously, things may be very different when baseball returns but my hope is that this gives you a good feel for the Twins, even if some specific items may be affected.
101-61, first in AL Central, lost in ALDS
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Last year’s Pepper
The Twins have bounced back and forth between playoffs and also-ran over the last few years, but they tore up the Central last year and then spent the winter making sure that wasn’t an aberration. Suddenly, the power in the American League Midwest has shifted over and up to the Twin Cities. Will all of their work pay off with not only another October trip but one that lasts longer? Minnesota has a great legacy of bloggers and we’ve got a few of them to discuss what 2020 has in store for their club.
|Cody Christie||Twins Daily||NoDakTwinsFan|
|TJ Gorsegner||Twinkie Town||TwinkieTown|
|Seth Stohs||Twins Daily||SethTweets|
C70: The Twins made a big splash signing Josh Donaldson. What are your thoughts about that deal?
Cody: The Twins went into the off-season knowing the club has entered a window of opportunity that included winning over 100 games in 2019. With a young core still in the prime of their careers, adding Donaldson provides a lot to the organization. With many players coming off career best seasons, Donaldson will help to compensate for some of the regression the offense will likely have in 2020. He also is a tremendous upgrade defensively and he should allow the Twins to do more shifting to compensate for a defensive middle infield that is below average. Minnesota is in win-now mode and Donaldson signals to the rest of baseball that the Twins are somewhere that big name players want to come and play.
TJ: I like it. Obviously a deal of that size is not without risk, but its largely mitigated for an AL team with flexibility. Assuming Donaldson can provide 2-3 more years of performance near his peak, he’s a huge upgrade on the left side of the infield, and moves Miguel Sano to first base. He also fits into the heart of a potent line up. If Donaldson does start to show decline as he ages, the Twins will have an open DH spot, as Nelson Cruz is playing in a contract year, and Donaldson can gracefully age into a Jim Thome-esque role. In the short term, the Twins signed the best available player this off season, and showed that they are fully invested in winning now.
Seth: Honestly, as much as I know what it did for an already-strong Twins offense, I wasn’t that excited about the signing. Age. Reputation. All those things. But after seeing him at both Twins Fest and in Ft. Myers at spring training, my tune has changed, at least for now. Maybe it’s one of those, “you hate him when he’s on the other team, but you like him when he’s on your team” things? He brings a lot to the lineup and to the team’s defense. He’s also been great as a mentor for the Twins prospects.
C70: Donaldson wasn’t the only free agent acquisition. Which of Rich Hill, Tyler Clippard, and Homer Bailey do you think will have the strongest season?
Cody: Clippard’s addition to the bullpen will help a group that really hit its stride in the second half of the season. That being said, he likely won’t impact the game as much as Hill and Bailey. Bailey will like be part of the rotation for a good chunk of the season. Michael Pineda is suspended to start the year so Bailey should be penciled in behind Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi. Hill won’t take the mound until mid-season, but I still think he has the opportunity to make the biggest impact. Adding him late in the year, could be a shot in the arm to the starting rotation and it could help the club to make some separation in the division.
TJ: Can I say Kenta Maeda? No. Okay fine then. Hill will have the best relative season, but it will be in a shorter stint. When healthy, he is among the true aces of baseball, but he is not healthy nearly enough, and won’t be until at least late June, barring any setbacks or new injuries. Of the three, I’ll say Clippard will have the best season relative expectations. I’ve been banging the drum that the Twins bullpen is ELITE this season, and Clippard is the 4th best righty in that pen. He’ll be used in a lot of 7th innings, I think, and will provide an effective bridge to the shutdown guys the Twins will use late in games.
Seth: Rich Hill has been so good, and if he comes back to nearly the pitcher he’s been for the last half-dozen years, that will be huge for the Twins. Clippard is a lot like Sergio Romo, who they brought back. He doesn’t overwhelm you, but he just keeps getting the job done. Bailey can be a solid back-end starter until Michael Pineda and Rich Hill get back. Alex Avila is a solid veteran backup catcher. And acquiring Kenta Maeda from the Dodgers really solidifies the Twins rotation.
C70: Is there anyone on the roster that is looking at a make or break season?
Cody: Eddie Rosario had over 30 home runs last season, but there’s a chance this will be his final year in a Twins uniform. He has one year left of arbitration, but his defense has really declined and it could be tough for the team to justify paying him what he’ll be owned next off-season. There are also plenty of young outfielders in the organization so Rosario will need to prove he is worth a commitment beyond 2020. At this point, I think they will go in another direction.
TJ: Prior to his contract extension, I’d have said Miguel Sano for sure. He seemed to put it together last year, but we’ve said that before. This is the time to prove it. He just signed a team-friendly deal to stick around for another three years, so the pressure is off him a bit. Byron Buxton is also facing some questions, primarily of a health nature this year, as he finally showed the performance he was drafted #1 overall for last year, but missed significant time with injuries. If he can play in 130 games and hit at least .250/.300/.350 this season, his defense makes that a totally adequate offensive performance, and he hit better than that last season, when healthy.
Seth: It’s a big year for Eddie Rosario since he has one more year of Arbitration and prospects like Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach and Brent Rooker at his heels. It is a big year for Byron Buxton. Not make-or-break, but at this point, it will be key for him to just stay on the field and prove that he can do that. He will start making some real money moving forward, and Royce Lewis likely ready by the end of the season, Buxton will want to be on the field. When he plays, he is a big difference-maker.
C70: What are your expectations for 2020? Where do you think they’ll finish in the division?
Cody: Cleveland is always tough and the White Sox have added a lot this off-season. Barring a significant amount of injuries, the Twins should still be on top at season’s end.
TJ: The Twins better finish first. After a slightly surprising 2019, expectations are high. Cleveland got arguable worse, certainly not better this winter. The Sox got better but not by enough to close the gap. the Royals and Tigers are still in full-on rebuild mode. The Twins invested heavily this winter, signing Donaldson, giving Jake Odorizzi a QO, bringing in some other free agent pitchers, and trading a highly-regarded prospect for Maeda. This season is an absolute bust with anything short of an ALCS appearance, and disappointing if they aren’t in the World Series.
Seth: I think that the 2020 Twins are a better team than the 101-win 2019 Twins team. The pitching is stronger and deeper. The lineup added Donaldson and most are in their primes. The bullpen should be strong. That said, Cleveland hasn’t traded off their best players yet and has strong starting pitching. The White Sox certainly made some impact additions to add to their young crop of talent. And teaming a healthy Michael Kopech with Lucas Giolito is scary. So, I do think that the Twins will repeat as the AL Central champions, but they won’t win 101 games and it’ll be more competitive than most people think.
C70: What’s the main topic Twins fans are discussing that maybe isn’t obvious to other teams?
Cody: I think most Twins fans are wishing the club would have added a high-end starting pitcher either through free agency or via a trade. Now, the Twins are going to have to rely on a strong bullpen and hope that Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi can build off of their All-Star seasons last year.
TJ: Twins fans are the most pessimistic bunch of whiners you can imagine. The conversation was “they don’t spend enough” until the Donaldson signing, then transitioned to “They didn’t do enough with the rotation to compete in the playoffs.” Now its mostly positive, as spring training has started, but just wait until one thing doesn’t break right. There is still “Cut or Trade” conversations on Buxton and Eddie Rosario. There are still a few people who cry about not having an “ace.” So, we’ll see what next week brings, but even a three-game skid will bring the sad-sacks out of the woodwork. I think that might be the most non-obvious thing right now–not a particular topic, but the number of folks who will never be satisfied, and cannot see the forest for the trees.
Seth: There are a lot of great talkers for Twins fans. The prospects. The veteran additions. The bullpen. People still wonder about how good the starting staff can and will be. Twins fans love Luis Arraez. The youngster owns the plate and strike zone and is a wizard with the bat. But a lot of people may not immediately recall that, if not for missing much of September, Max Kepler would have hit 40 home runs.
C70: What are you looking forward to most about the coming season?
Cody: Expectations couldn’t be much higher for the Twins after last season’s breakout campaign. I don’t know if this club will be able to win 100 games for the second straight season, but the pieces are there for this to be a very exciting club. A healthy Byron Buxton can be one of the most exciting players in the game and I’d love for him to put it all together this season.
TJ: This is going to be a fun season. This is the best Twins roster on paper since Rod Carew was playing, if not ever. Even with some regression the offense is potent, and there is reason to believe regression won’t hit hard–the “breakout” guys last year are just hitting their primes, and the older guys have track records. The rotation is “good enough,” and if the Twins take a lead into the 6th inning, that bullpen is scary. There are a good number of players to be excited about individually as well. Max Kepler is blossoming into a perennial all-star in the outfield, and the other two guys there are very good as well. Donaldson is a fun new face to add, and Luis Arraez has the approach to be a long-term MLB regular as well. The 26th roster spot gives us a bit more chance to see Willians Astudillo as well, even if he doesnt make the opening day roster. If I had to give you one answer though, its Kenta Maeda. He’s been nothing but good, and a fun personality in LA, and he wants to be in Minnesota, and have a chance to not get jerked-around between the pen and rotation. I think he is a breakout star in 2020.
Seth: First, I’m just excited for it to get started, especially now that we don’t know when that is. Such a bad answer, but I’m excited for almost everything. The lineup will continue to be strong. The bullpen saw several guys take off last year and should be strong. But I think that the starting rotation will surprise a lot of people. Jose Berrios has another level in him. WIll he get there in 2020? Can Jake Odorizzi duplicate his 2019? How good with Kenta Maeda be in the American League and as a full-time starter? Can Rich Hill come back, at age-40, strong? How will the younger pitchers like Randy Dobnak, Lewis Thorpe and Devin Smeltzer get opportunities? And will we see Jordan Balazovic, Dakota Chalmers or Jhoan Duran in 2020? So much to be excited about with this team!