The Twins got here into 2021 with postseason aspirations, ones that have been rapidly dashed by an atrocious begin to the season. By the commerce deadline, they have been dealing for the longer term; Nelson Cruz, Hansel Robles, and J.A. Happ have been all leases, however José Berríos, who was dealt to the Blue Jays, seemed like a key a part of the group for each this yr and subsequent. Buying and selling him was a calculated gamble that they may sacrifice some certainty subsequent yr for future worth. Now, 2022 is in much more jeopardy: Kenta Maeda, the group’s greatest pitcher, will endure Tommy John surgical procedure and miss a very good chunk of subsequent yr.
For the Twins, that is clearly brutal information. This season was already a write-off, however that they had principally achieved a very good job of constructing for subsequent yr whilst they disenchanted within the current. Cruz apart, the group will retain most of its offensive core subsequent yr, and whereas Andrelton Simmons will hit free company, with Jorge Polanco and Luis Arraez nonetheless within the fold, they’ll have an enormous array of choices for the right way to substitute him. Heck, reunite with Cruz on one other one-year deal, they usually may discipline a strong group with none additional infield starters wanted (Josh Donaldson to 3rd base, Arraez to second, and Polanco to brief). Austin Martin, the centerpiece of the group’s return for Berríos, could be able to bolster that infield depth as quickly as subsequent yr, as effectively.
The lineup, nonetheless, isn’t the Twins’ largest downside. It’s underperformed this yr, little doubt, however their pitching has been disastrous. They’ve allowed 5.3 runs per recreation, the third-worst mark within the majors. It’s no sequencing fluke, both: by BaseRuns, in addition they have the third-worst pitching employees within the massive leagues. You gained’t win a whole lot of video games in case you permit so many runs, no matter what number of bombs you’re hitting on the opposite facet of the ball.
These disastrous pitching numbers really understate the issue Minnesota faces, as a result of they embrace the contributions of Berríos and Maeda; the latter was within the midst of a down yr, however a down yr for him remains to be a strong season. He posted a 4.66 ERA, the worst of his profession, however his peripherals have been rosier: a 4.09 FIP, 3.98 xFIP, and above-average strikeout and whiff charges.
These are strong numbers, however they pale compared to his marvelous 2020, when he posted a 2.70 ERA and a sterling 32.3% strikeout charge; he completed second in Cy Younger voting, and deservedly so. In his final 32 begins — comprising the 2020 and ’21 seasons — he’s pitched to a 3.90 ERA, 3.67 FIP, and 27.5% strikeout charge. That’s roughly according to his profession marks in all three classes.
In actual fact, Maeda had been a uncommon shiny spot because the Twins continued to scuffle within the second half. Because the starting of July, he made 9 begins and seemed like his outdated self, with a 3.62 ERA, 3.06 FIP, and strikeout charge above 30%. It wasn’t fairly his sensational 2020, however after some early-season scuffles had his ERA within the mid-5s, it was reassuring to see him regain his kind.
The Twins wanted that strong pitching efficiency. Even at their division-winning peak, they relied extra on a potent offense than a stingy pitching employees to win video games. They don’t name it the Bomba Squad due to their dynamic starters and thrilling bullpen (although at instances they’ve had each of these).
The bullpen has been terrible this yr. Taylor Rogers nonetheless seems to be sharp, however truthfully, that’s about it. Alex Colomé has reclaimed the nearer position, however extra as a result of “somebody has to shut” precept than anything. On the season, they’ve been one of many worst bullpens in baseball, and in August, they’ve been one of many worst bullpens in baseball. Relievers are inherently unstable, which ought to give the Twins hope that they’ll be capable of construct a decent unit subsequent yr, but when they’re going to construct an elite run prevention unit, it must start with the beginning rotation.
They’ve achieved it earlier than. In 2020, Twins starters posted the sixth-most WAR in baseball and completed seventh the yr earlier than. Of their latest aggressive run, Minnesota’s entrance workplace has spun gold out of some unpromising begins; we projected them as tenth and 14th, respectively, in these two years. Perhaps they have been simply driving variance; we projected them because the Twelfth-best rotation this yr, they usually’ve been the Twenty sixth-best.
Nonetheless you need to take into consideration Minnesota’s powers of roster development, subsequent yr’s rotation wanted Maeda as an anchor. In the mean time, Bailey Ober could be their Opening Day starter subsequent yr. Don’t take this as a knock on him: He’s been strong this yr and tore up Triple-A earlier than incomes his call-up. Joe Ryan, who’s been inconsistent since coming over within the Cruz commerce however exhibits flashes of three plus pitches and has seemed the half in his minor league profession, may additionally get the nod. They’re each strong pitchers, however neither is anybody’s thought of a employees ace.
After these two, it will get scary. Randy Dobnak is attention-grabbing; he’s additionally pitched to a 6.18 FIP this yr. The Twins hardly appeared positive of him within the first place; he missed a big chunk of the season with an injured finger, although that they had already despatched him to the minors as soon as earlier than that ailment, after a desultory 14.1 innings of reduction work.
Are you a Griffin Jax fan? ZiPS and Steamer aren’t, projecting him for a mid-5s ERA. Andrew Albers, maybe? John Gant? You may title extra names, however none of them fill me with confidence. With out significant personnel modifications, the Twins will go into subsequent yr with one of many worst projected beginning rotations within the majors.
Maeda alone would do loads to make that image brighter. There’s excellent news on that entrance: his surgical procedure carries a shorter restoration timeline than a traditional UCL substitute. It’s a so-called internal brace Tommy John surgical procedure, the place a chunk of collagen-coated tape supplies extra help and shortens restoration time. He might be again in 9–12 months as in comparison with actually out for subsequent season if he had opted for normal TJ.
Even when the Twins get a half-season out of Maeda, they’ll have some buying to do that offseason. Their payroll is slated to drop considerably; Michael Pineda and Simmons alone accounted for $20 million of payroll this yr, they usually’re each leaving in free company. Their modus operandi in these conditions has been to hunt for bargains and construct a rotation out of acceptable starters, including Rich Hill, Happ, Matt Shoemaker, Jake Odorizzi, Homer Bailey, and Pineda on short-term, mid-dollar offers lately previous.
This offseason ought to current loads of choices. Decide the best two or three names, and the Twins may create a mean rotation out of spare components and middling prospects. To focus on a couple of at random, check out this checklist:
2022 Free Agent Pitchers
*: Cueto has a group possibility that’s unlikely to be picked up
It’s clearly not as simple as that. Decide the fallacious two names, throw in an damage or two, and also you could be a catastrophe of a employees. Minnesota doesn’t have any workhorses to lean on, which makes the entire proposition riskier. Come up empty this offseason, and the group might be losing the final yr of Byron Buxton in Minnesota; pretty much as good because the offense is, there’s a restrict to how poor a playoff pitching employees might be.
The Twins aren’t the one ones put out by Maeda’s damage. He would possibly undergo essentially the most, even excluding the excruciating ache and monotony of rehab. When he came to visit from Japan’s NPB, he signed an incentive-laden contract that pays him kind of by the beginning, with a base wage of solely $3 million however a pair of scaling incentives. First, he will get $250,000 for every 10-inning increment pitched beginning at 90 innings. Second, he receives a bonus for video games began: $1 million for 15 and 20 video games began, then $1.5 million for 25, 30, and 32. If he made 32 begins in a season and eclipsed 200 innings, he would make $12.5 million. However in solely half a season and with innings restrictions, he’ll seemingly make solely his base wage subsequent yr.
That’s a big monetary hit, although signing such an incentive-laden contract meant that any damage was prone to be pricey. In actual fact, I feel this may increasingly have performed a task in Maeda’s determination to decide on inner brace surgical procedure. If he opted for normal Tommy John, he would seemingly be out of fee till 2023. In his first recreation motion since surgical procedure, the group would seemingly restrict his innings, and thus his likelihood at efficiency bonuses. By pitching within the latter half of 2022, he may alleviate a few of the group’s fears about workload, probably rising his ’23 enjoying time.
Regardless of the causes that Maeda selected a surgical procedure possibility with a shorter restoration time, it provides some hope to each he and the group. Fifty innings of Maeda subsequent yr could be an enormous enhance for a group that can desperately want innings out of their starters, no matter what they do that offseason. The 2021 season was a troublesome one for the Twins. Sadly, 2022 is shaping as much as be one other problem.