The Minnesota Twins have a lot of usable pieces in place, but they are sorely lacking true cornerstones in their lineup. That has become increasingly evident, especially when looking at the two teams in this year’s World Series. Yes, the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros boast top-notch starting pitching. But they also feature multiple established, veteran hitters who have led them to the front step of championship glory.
The quest for securing frontline starting pitchers will be an eternal battle for the Twins, and it’s an avenue that they should absolutely explore. But if they want to become a contender akin to the Astros and Phillies, they need to land at least two big bats this off-season.
Many of the players about to be featured in the World Series were signed from the free-agent market over the last few years. Last off-season, the Phillies committed nearly $200 million to two of the market’s top bats, Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos. They splurged on two lineup cornerstones who complemented Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto.
While they weren’t acquired via free agency, the Astros also have a core of offensive players that have led them to six straight League Championship Series. Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, and Kyle Tucker are star-caliber, everyday players. They aren’t getting platooned or time-shared with other complementary pieces.
That’s the blueprint that the Twins should follow.
The club already has star center fielder Byron Buxton in the fold for the next six years. 2022 batting champion Luis Arraez is under team control for three more seasons. Beyond those two, there is considerable uncertainty due to health concerns, declining production, lack of experience, or some combination of the three.
The likes of Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler are reaching the end of their prime years and have dealt with various injuries over the past few seasons. Jose Miranda and Matt Wallner showed great promise after debuting this season, but neither is a lock to be a star player immediately. Royce Lewis, Trevor Larnach, and Alex Kirilloff have each shown flashes of living up to their first-round draft pick reputation but have been limited by significant injuries that required surgery. All of these players could reasonably contribute to a championship-caliber lineup, but none are a lock to do so.
The Twins have made various moves to create financial flexibility in recent years; now they need to take advantage of it. And since this front office has either refused to dole out sizable, multi-year commitments to upper-tier starting pitchers or failed to reel in these big fish, it’s time to pivot.
The free agent market is about to be full of intriguing options if the Twins try to push themselves into a contending position. The current front office has usually opted for complementary players like Marwin Gonzalez, Jonathan Schoop, and C.J. Cron. They’ve also shown a penchant for landing everyday players whose market sputtered, such as Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson, and even Carlos Correa. They can’t afford to do that again this time.
There’s still a lot of hope that the current players will show results once they get healthy and emerge as everyday players. But if that doesn’t happen in 2023, all that hope will melt into doubt faster than the local shock jocks can tweet “Cheap Pohlads.”
The Twins can start by doing whatever it takes to get Correa back in their clubhouse with a record-breaking deal. Should fans expect this to happen? Probably not. But if the Twins only do whatever is expected, then they will never improve. Not to mention, this type of contract was unprecedented for the Texas Rangers, and they signed two such deals within days of each other when they brought in Corey Seager and Marcus Semien just last year. Correa is going to sign a deal that is fairly unprecedented wherever he winds up. Why not break that precedent here and keep him in Minnesota?
Other cornerstone-level sluggers that could be enticing to the Twins include two first basemen that were just eliminated from the playoffs: Josh Bell and Anthony Rizzo. They will require multi-year pacts but at a much lower cost than Correa. Both would probably be looking for a three- or four-year deal.
Rizzo would provide the clubhouse with a much-needed veteran presence with Word Series experience. He’s also a strong left-handed bat in the middle of the order. The 33-year-old finished the season with a strong .224/.338/.480 (132 wRC+) slash line and 32 home runs for the New York Yankees. He’s a finalist for the American League Gold Glove award at first base.
Bell doesn’t have Rizzo’s defensive prowess, but his bat more than makes up for it. He will be entering his age-30 season and would be an everyday player at first base or designated hitter, thanks to his switch-hitting ability. Bell failed to find his stroke after the Washington Nationals traded him to the San Diego Padres at the deadline this year (.192/.316/.271, 79 wRC+), but he still finished the season with a .266/.362/.422 line (123 wRC+).
Willson Contreras is another very enticing option, even if he’s not as clean of a fit. He’s a consensus top-5 catcher in the game and offers a similar championship pedigree to Rizzo. In 113 games last year, the former Chicago Cub put up a .243/.349/.466 line (132 wRC+) and belted 22 home runs. That’s elite production from a backstop and would be a clear upgrade from the likes of Gary Sanchez and Ryan Jeffers, who would be relegated to backup duty if the Twins land Contreras. Jeffers could even be part of a package that lands something big in a trade if the club finds a new primary catcher.
These options on the free-agent market represent big bats that could be considered cornerstones for the Twins lineup going forward. Yes, they will need better overall production from their pitching staff if they want to make a deep playoff run. But unless they can establish a core of offensive players like the Phillies and Astros have over the last few years, the Twins can expect to be watching the World Series from their couches for years to come.