Twins

Will the Twins Act More Like Cleveland Or the White Sox This Offseason?

Photo Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins are watching the postseason from home for the second season in a row. While the other teams are fighting to keep their playoff runs alive, Minnesota’s brain trust is likely focusing on how to get the team back to the postseason in 2023.

After two disappointing seasons where the club has missed October baseball, the Twins have a potentially huge offseason ahead. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have their work cut out for them because the team is at a crossroads, and they have been on the job since 2016.

Minnesota has made the postseason in three of the six seasons under the current regime, but the current roster looks vastly different from the 2019 and 2020 squads. Now it’s stacked with guys hand-picked by the front office. Alex Kirilloff has developed in their system. Falvey and Levine drafted Royce Lewis and Trevor Larnach. Their first attempt at building a core is now ready to make an impact in the big leagues.

That hasn’t quite materialized so far. Through injuries or poor play, the team has posted a 151-173 in the last two seasons. Ownership might be willing to let Falvey and Levine start over if they see fit. But waving the white flag this early into what they likely see as their window isn’t a bode of confidence in their team.

This offseason, the Twins front office needs to show that they can put another postseason team on the field with their hand-picked young core.

To build a winning team, the Twins could emulate the Chicago White Sox. They could use big spending and splashy moves to create a contending ball club. Chicago brought in Tony LaRussa to manage the team, signed Lance Lynn, and traded for Liam Hendricks. Whether the moves panned out or not, the White Sox weren’t afraid to take some big swings. They are probably the most likely team in the AL Central to build a roster that way.

The Twins could go the way of the Cleveland Guardians. Their method focuses heavily on development, largely due to their ownership’s unwillingness to spend money. Cleveland has stayed relevant over the years despite a bottom-five payroll because of its ability to find and develop high-quality pitching. From C.C. Sabathia to Shane Bieber, the Guardians have historically had no shortage of great arms.

So, where do the Twins fall? They tend to try and take ideas from both sides of the coin. They focus a lot on scouting and development. However, this front office is willing to go out and make a splash in free agency. They offered contracts to Yu Darvish and Zack Wheeler before finally signing Carlos Correa last spring to essentially a 1-year, $35.1 million deal. At the same time, the team has still been in the middle of the pack when it comes to total team spending.

According to Spotrac, the Twins were slightly below league average last season in total payroll. Despite signing the franchise’s first-ever $35 million contract, Minnesota still ranked 16th in baseball with $159 million spent on this year’s club. The Twins are more likely to make splashy moves than the Guardians, but Minnesota still needs to have solid depth in their organization.

In a way, the Twins are almost modeling themselves as an alternative to how the Tampa Bay Rays operate. They use scouting and player development as a foundation, with the option of making a calculated splash. That system works great when a team has great depth and makes some savvy deals. Although they’ve had mixed results in the trade market, the Twins have been able to make some nice trades. They have added key pieces to the team, like Joe Ryan and Jhoan Duran, in deals with the Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks. When that depth and additions don’t pan out, it can cause a team to spin its wheels like the Twins have the past two seasons.

The Twins also structure their contracts differently than Tampa does. Minnesota usually signs free agents to short contracts with team flexibility. Outside of a four-year contract to Josh Donaldson, the Twins love to give out one- and two-year contracts with team options. That makes it easier to move on from players while keeping the Twins from burying their payroll in long-term contracts.

Their approach creates some issues, though. Short-term deals mean the Twins constantly have to rearrange their team. Last year, it was rearranging the left side of the infield in one week. Two years ago, the team had to completely remake its bullpen. For this offseason, they have a list of areas the team should address. Mainly, they need to add high-leverage relievers and implement a replacement for Correa.

More roster turnover also means more pressure on the team to add in free agency. The Twins will have plenty of change to work with. Assuming Correa officially opts out and doesn’t re-sign with the club, Minnesota will have only $83.7 million on the books this winter. That number is just $1 million above Cleveland’s total 2022 payroll, one of the league’s lowest.

After showing a willingness to go out and make a big free-agent signing in two of the last three offseasons, the Twins should be motivated to be active in the offseason again. Extra funds could go towards resigning Correa, adding impact pitching, or going after one of the big names on the market. No matter how the Twins decide to do it, they will have to reshape this team on the fly for the second straight season.

Whatever option they choose, there needs to be a plan for the organization to use that money to bring in help to get the team back to the postseason. They shouldn’t feel compelled to make a big move like Chicago often does. But if the Twins hoard cash without making any serious investments in the team, fans would have some justified complaints about the front office.

Unlike Cleveland, the Twins haven’t been able to flex organizational depth. Kirilloff, Larnach, and Lewis all got injured last year. Additionally, poor play and setbacks slowed down Austin Martin (.241/.367/.315 at Double-A in 2022), Jordan Balazovic (7.39 ERA for Triple-A in 2022), and others from impacting the big league club.

Minnesota’s current core still has a lot of potential, even if it hasn’t been fully realized in 2021 or 2022. Last season, albeit a letdown, still was seen as more of a year to let young guys like Kirilloff, Larnach, and Jose Miranda continue to develop as big-league hitters. Now that those players are a year older, the Twins can’t claim to be a developing team and need more time. Not everything has been Minnesota’s fault, but they will have to prove they can win with this core at a certain point.

Time is running out for Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to show they can put their vision of the Twins into the postseason after back-to-back disappointing seasons. There are many questions about what this team will do and plenty of different possibilities with the payroll space they have available. This upcoming offseason will set the stage for an important 2023 season for the Twins front office.

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