Major League Baseball’s lockout puts the Minnesota Twins in a unique situation. The hot stove usually starts to boil this time of the year, but the lockout has frozen all transactions. While it’s terrible for baseball, it gives a team like the Twins time to analyze the market.
The Twins came into this offseason looking for starting pitching, and many big names came off the board in the early weeks of free agency. But they have never been an aggressive team during the offseason. Now Minnesota enters the lockout with a chance to see what they have and form a plan of attack for when the lockout ends.
The Current State of the Rotation
The Twins arguably had all five spots in their rotation up for grabs when the offseason began. Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober were impressive during the final months of the season, but their roster spots may not be solidified if the Twins are serious about competing in 2022.
If the Twins are going to be a factor in the American League, they will need to accumulate some depth. Signing Dylan Bundy doesn’t do much to move the needle for fans seeking a true ace, but it adds a back-of-the-rotation arm with major league experience.
If anything, Bundy can be a bridge to some of Minnesota’s top prospects like Jordan Balazovic, Drew Strotman and Josh Winder, who should begin next season at Triple-A, assuming the season starts on time.
That’s why it wouldn’t be shocking if the Twins decided to make one or two more bargain signings to add competition. However, the front office also needs to add a top-of-the-rotation pitcher.
There’s a chance that the Twins could add that arm via trade. But there weren’t many trades before the lockout to gauge what teams were asking for in return. The front office is reluctant to overpay for any arm, leaving us to wonder what they could do on the free-agent market.
What happened in free agency?
The simple answer to this is that a lot of money was thrown around on pitching. The Tigers struck first by giving Eduardo Rodriguez a five-year, $77 million contract. The market got even crazier when Noah Syndergaard signed a one-year, $21 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels.
The action didn’t stop when 37-year-old Max Scherzer got a three-year, $130 million deal from the New York Mets. Kevin Gausman (five years, $110 million with the Toronto Blue Jays) and Robbie Ray (five years, $115 million with the Seattle Mariners) also cashed in on contracts in excess of $100 million. But the Twins were never likely to be involved in that tier.
The middle tier was more in Minnesota’s wheelhouse, but they watched as other teams made moves there. Marcus Stroman (three years, $71 million) and Anthony DeSclafani (three years, $36 million) both had contracts that the Twins could stomach while Alex Wood, Jon Gray and Steven Matz should have also been targets.
That leaves a lot of riskier pitchers who were signed to one-year “bargain deals.” Even these were somewhat inflated with James Paxton getting $10 million from the Boston Red Sox after getting $8 million for four outs with the Seattle Mariners last season.
Who could the Twins target?
If the Twins want to surprise everyone, they could make a push for Carlos Rodón. The left-hander finished fifth in American League Cy Young voting this year. However, he’s a year removed from a series of shoulder injuries that limited him to 11 starts between the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
That’s not a player the Twins usually are interested in. But as Byron Buxton’s contract showed, they’re not afraid to dive into an incentive-laden deal, which could put Rodón into play on a short-term deal. However, he still may be off the table. He’s likely looking to cash in on a tremendous year.
The Twins could also make a push for Clayton Kershaw, who remains an interesting study. At 34 years old, Kershaw could have some gas in the tank. He posted a 3.55 ERA in 22 starts last season. But a variety of injuries could also scare them off.
Fangraphs has Kershaw’s value pegged at $26 million per season, but the Twins could pay a little more on a shorter-term deal. If they want an upper-echelon starter, this might be the price they have to pay.
But more likely, it seems like the Twins will try to shoot for a lower-priced contract on an arm with some upside. Danny Duffy was a target in our bargain pitcher article earlier this offseason. Fangraphs values him on a two-year deal worth $21 million, so he could be a solution if his injury issues are taken care of.
If the Twins wanted to go cheaper, they could take a look at Matthew Boyd, who had surgery to repair a flexor tendon last September. Major elbow surgery isn’t a risk most teams want to take, but Rodón was in a similar spot last season and could command a significant deal this year.
What should the Twins do?
Although it could be a long time until we get the answer, the Twins need to plan ahead if they want to become relevant. Going into the season with a bunch of young arms and a couple of bargain veterans may not be enough against the Chicago White Sox, who added Kendall Graveman to their bullpen.
In the end, it would be ideal if the Twins added a couple of bargain pitchers in free agency and potentially threw some money at Kershaw or Rodón. If they’re able to make a trade for another arm, that could be enough to compete for a wild card spot or be a dark horse challenger in a weak division.