Twins

Does A Shortened Season Change Minnesota's Window In 2022?

Photo Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Baseball is staring down the barrel of another shortened season for the second time in three years. MLB shortened the 2020 season primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it was also delayed because of disputes between the league and the player’s union. Disagreements between the two parties have heightened in the latest round of collective bargaining talks this winter compared to nearly two years ago and have been the worst since 1994-95.

The owners set a Monday deadline to put a deal in place for the next season. Otherwise, players will lose out on games and their game checks. Owners pushed that to Tuesday, but the threat still looms. Negotiations can change at a moment’s notice, but baseball faces the prospect of playing in a shortened season again. It’s unknown how long it could be, but it would be another unusual season for the Minnesota Twins to try and compete in.

Minnesota’s current roster is stuck in the middle. The Twins don’t require a complete rebuild despite last season’s disappointing 73-89 record that landed them in last place of the AL Central. However, they don’t appear to be in great shape to immediately bounce back and improve on last season.

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have stated they believe the Twins will compete in 2022. But what were they going to say? They would have been foolish to already brand 2022 a rebuilding year, given the talent on this roster. Even if Falvey and Levine think this team is ready to compete, that opinion could have changed because of the lengthy lockout.

Will the Twins be legitimate playoff contenders in 2022? Or should they sit this year out and make their move in 2023? That decision could be influenced by how the lockout negotiations go.

There was already speculation over whether 2022 would be a step back because of how different this team is compared to the 2019 squad. A shortened season has the potential to throw everything out of whack. Therefore, the Twins could try and play off this season as a rebuilding year using the lockout as an excuse. I’m not offering a judgment on the approach. I’m just saying you could see Minnesota’s front office consider this approach.

It could also be easier to sell a fanbase on a rebuild in a shortened season. If the Twins were being blunt, a response like, Hey guys, this season will be a wash but give our team another year to figure things out so we can hit the ground running in 2023, might be easier to accept this time around. It’s not that the Twins are hoping for this option, but it seems like this could be an option if games are delayed.

After trading away José Berríos and Nelson Cruz, the team looks like the weakest it has been over the last few seasons. The season before saw numerous young players thrown into action – including Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, and Bailey Ober. The Twins are going through a transition, and we could see Royce Lewis or Austin Martin break into the majors.

Once free agency opens up again, the patient and practical Twins will be out of their element. Top pitching or shortstop free agents will be looking to find teams quickly to be ready for whenever the season opens. Also, how willing will teams be to trade for players if they only get a shortened season out of them in 2022?

Competing in 2022 is a realistic possibility for the Twins. Because some of their best prospects have already reached the majors, they may be ready to take the next step this season.

Last season was an outlier in that nearly every move the front office made in the previous offseason fell on its face. Outside of keeping Cruz around, offseason additions including Alexander Colomé, J.A. Happ, Andrelton Simmons were busts with the Twins in 2021. Whatever moves the Twins will be able to make should be some kind of improvement given the disaster that was last offseason.

Adding to the roster through free agency could also be difficult due to the ensuing mess in free agency whenever it resumes. That could lead the Twins to break character and be more aggressive because they would have more leverage in negotiations due to how soon the season would most likely start.

By the way, not going all-in on the season to start doesn’t mean the team is incapable of playing above their expectations. The 2021 Twins were fifth in baseball with 228 home runs, and Jorge Polanco and Byron Buxton are expected to lead the lineup this season. If the pitching can bounce back in any way, this team could find a postseason spot.

That logic may seem like a stretch. But the postseason is expected to be expanded in some form once the new CBA is agreed upon. Those chances for the postseason could be amplified because shortened seasons are always unpredictable due to the smaller number of games that don’t always allow outliers to be weeded out.

Look at the 2020 Miami Marlins. After going 57-105 in 2019, they came out of nowhere and went 31-29 in 2020, and won a playoff series in the process. That hype was short-lived, though. They went 67-95 last year, highlighting how fluky these years can be for teams that aren’t in prime position to compete for the postseason.

The 2020 season was already chaotic because of the shortened season, new rule changes, and the unprecedented nature of the situation. After coming off a 100-plus campaign and an AL Central berth in 2019, the Twins had to go full steam ahead in a 60-game 2020. Now the Twins don’t feel the same pressure as they face a similar situation in 2022.

While a delayed season with fewer games would be damaging for the league in the long term, it might make some decisions at Target Field easier for the direction of the 2022 Twins. Shortened seasons can bring out chaos because of the smaller sample size. But they can also make a rebuilding year sting less because the season feels spoiled from the start.

The Minnesota Twins still have a talented lineup that can come back into contention this season if they make certain adjustments to the roster. If Major League Baseball does not find a way to end the lockout without eliminating regular-season games, Minnesota could use 2022 as a short rebuilding year. Fans would welcome any surprise success they have because they’d know they’re gearing up to be competitive in 2023.

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