Twins

Is This the Year the Twins Find Their Ace?

Photo Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Another offseason is almost upon us. The Minnesota Twins are headed back to the drawing board to fortify this roster for a chance at the postseason.

Of course, the Twins had October baseball in their sights until their second-half collapse and disappointing 78-84 record. There’s more than one cause for their play down the stretch, but one of the most significant factors can be attributed to Minnesota’s pitching staff. The unit finished the season with a 4.11 team ERA among starting pitchers, which ranked 20th in all of baseball.

Injuries played a role in Minnesota’s collapse. Losing Chris Paddack, Bailey Ober, Josh Winder, Tyler Mahle, and others to long-term injuries hampered the pitching staff. Getting those guys, and Kenta Maeda, back for the 2023 season will provide depth in the starting rotation that the Twins haven’t seen in some time.

Depth is good for the Twins. Even with all of their arms, the Minnesota pitching staff is still missing a bona fide ace to make this rotation playoff caliber. Something that the Derek Falvey and Thad Levine front office has been searching for since coming to Minnesota in 2016. They were heavily in the mix for Zack Wheeler but never got a deal done. The stars might be aligning for a play toward a top pitcher this offseason.

Why? Let’s start by looking at their payroll. Assuming they don’t extend Carlos Correa, the team only has $83.7 million committed to next season. There is cash to spend. Last season’s Correa deal indicated that the Twins are willing to go out and spend on a player, especially if there is ample salary flexibility to do so.

Unfortunately, the free agent market isn’t going to be robust this winter for a true ace. Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander are the headliners of this year’s free-agent class. deGrom will demand a multi-year deal with an annual salary in the $35 million range. With the entire league likely chasing him, it’s tough to envision the Twins winning out a bid for deGrom’s services.

Twins fans are familiar with Verlander’s dominance from his seasons in Detroit. He has a 3.24 career ERA, and adding a first-ballot Hall of Famer to the rotation would be a no-brainer. However, his current success and situation in Houston probably mean he isn’t going anywhere.

So the top two free agency choices don’t seem realistic. Therefore, Carlos Rodón is likely Minnesota’s most realistic option in free agency. It would make sense for the Twins to be favorites to land him, considering the team was in the mix to sign him just last season before he signed with the San Francisco Giants. Rodón made $22 million last season and had back-to-back good seasons.

Rodón had a career year with the Chicago White Sox in 2021. His 2.37 ERA that season earned him a 2-year, $22 million deal from the San Francisco Giants with an opt-out. He will likely exercise it and hit free agency again this offseason at age 29. Rodón will have teams lining up for his services after a 2.88 ERA, 2.25 FIP, and a 33.4 percent strikeout rate in 2022.

The Twins were already trying to court him last winter, and it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t try again. This front office has the salary flexibility to sign him, plus he’s young enough to earn a multi-year contract through the prime seasons of his career. It wouldn’t be hard for the Twins to offer Rodón anywhere between $25 and $30 million a year. The Twins have salary flexibility, which may allow them to outbid some other teams.

Other notable free agents include Clayton Kershaw, Nathan Eovaldi, and Luis Severino. While all of them are good pitchers in their own right, they aren’t really aces at this point in their careers. Even Kershaw is past his prime of being a No. 1 starter for a rotation.

Free agency could be a potential path to the Twins finding an ace. However, it will be a competitive market with limited realistic options. Truly dominant pitchers don’t often hit the free-agent market, so the Twins might have to trade for one. Still, guys like Wheeler usually aren’t on the trade block, which means they would need to get creative to find someone.

Their middle-of-the-pack farm system might not have enough prospects to swing a trade. However, the team has enough MLB-ready talent to make a trade, especially considering how deep they are with “B-level” starters. They have a surplus, and they would be excellent trade chips.

Trading for a potential ace can be complicated because it takes two GMs to make a deal work. A bold move will be necessary to land a top arm. But the Twins could find a couple of teams who would be in a position to deal an ace.

Tyler Glasnow of the Tampa Bay Rays fits the mold of an ace who could be on the move. He has some injury concerns coming off Tommy John Surgery this season, but the stuff is there. He has logged a 4.00 career ERA and a 3.78 career FIP, and top percentiles in fastball spin and velocity, according to Baseball Savant.

It can be tricky trading with the Rays, but the Twins have been able to make nice trades with the league’s savviest swappers. Glasnow would cost some prospects, but the upside would be well worth the investment considering he is under team control until 2024.

Freddy Peralta of the Milwaukee Brewers is another option. Peralta, 26, is a young pitcher on the rise. He had a 3.58 ERA and 3.06 FIP with a 29.7 percent whiff rate in 2022.

Trading Peralta would be a bold move for Milwaukee because of Peralta’s age. Therefore, it’s tough to see the Brewers part from him with so many years of team control remaining. However, Milwaukee unexpectedly traded their top reliever, Josh Hader, at this year’s deadline. The Brewers did it once already, and a good enough package could land the Twins their top arm that’s full of relatively cheap team control.

Minnesota’s current starting rotation coming into 2023 will have depth but no high-end talent. This offseason may not be perfect for landing an ace, but there is a path forward for the Twins to finally land the ace that Falvey and Levine have been searching for.

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