The Minnesota Twins continue to be aggressive as Spring Training nears. On Monday, they sent two relief prospects to the Kansas City Royals for reserve outfielder Michael A. Taylor. The move seems simple enough. The Twins desperately needed a right-handed hitting outfielder as a capable center fielder to back up Byron Buxton. But this trade says something about how the front office is putting things together this year.
The Twins hired Derek Falvey and Thad Levine in the fall of 2016. After firing longtime GM Terry Ryan that summer, the team tried to step outside their comfort zone and adapt to a more modernized version of baseball compared to decades of the standard, traditional approach.
Enter Falvey, who became the Twins President of Baseball Operations at age 33. Minnesota hired him, hoping he would modernize the organization as a young voice leading the team. That has happened over the last six-plus years. However, Falvey is a young executive learning on the job for a team that has always been, or expected to be, competitive every season since he arrived.
Mistakes are going to be made no matter who is in charge. However, it is still important to see how the Twins would react after a bad transaction. Falvey hasn’t been perfect throughout his tenure. However, he seems to have picked up some lessons through his missteps.
For example, by trading for Taylor, the Twins added a right-handed hitting outfielder to the fold. Taylor has a .675 OPS against righties, but he brings high-quality speed and defense. The 2021 Gold Glove-winning center fielder will be an upgraded version of Gilberto Celestino to be Buxton insurance.
Adding Taylor means that Buxton can be in the designated hitter slot more frequently because the Twins have a capable center fielder in his place. Buxton’s injury history has been well established, so Minnesota needs to have another Gold Glover behind. Minnesota also won’t have to take guys like Nick Gordon or Max Kepler out of their more natural positions in case of Buxton’s absence. The Twins can use Kepler in center field in an emergency, but he was in center for the 2019 postseason, putting the Twins behind the 8-ball even before it started.
Last season, the Twins led the AL Central for most of the season, but they missed the playoffs largely due to an overwhelming number of injuries down the stretch. Minnesota suffered because of injuries and a lack of depth. They were basically running out a Triple-A lineup in the final weeks of the season because the team was so thin in multiple positions.
However, re-signing Carlos Correa helps the infield depth dramatically. Kyle Farmer goes from being a below-average shortstop to a solid utility man. Gordon will see less time at shortstop and more time at less strenuous positions like second or the corner outfield spots. Eventually, prospects like Royce Lewis, Brooks Lee, and Austin Martin will bring even more depth to the infield for years to come.
The Twins no longer rely on Joey Gallo’s production, making him the buy-low signing he was meant to be. If Gallo can’t bounce back, Max Kepler, Trevor Larnach, and Matt Wallner can play the corner outfield in the majors – each has at least some big-league at-bats.
The Tayor acquisition isn’t the first time we’ve seen the front office make adjustments after their mistakes. In the 2018 offseason, the Twins played back in free agency, letting the market come to them. They got Lance Lynn and Logan Morrison on one-year deals because of their depressed market value, and the front office was expecting both to be key contributors that year. However, Lynn was disgruntled during his entire Twins tenure, and they traded him to the New York Yankees at the deadline. Logan Morrison tore his labrum and ended his season two months early with a .644 OPS.
Through that season, the Falvey learned how important the right leadership was in the clubhouse. Therefore, he brought in Nelson Cruz to pair with new manager Rocco Baldelli. Cruz would lead a young Twins team, help Baldelli install a relaxed culture, and mentor Miguel Sanó.
The 2019 season couldn’t have gone better for the Twins. They won the AL Central with 100-plus wins and hit 307 home runs to break the MLB record. Cruz was the undisputed leader with 41 home runs and a 1.031 OPS in 2019. Sanó also had his best season as a pro with 34 home runs and a .923 OPS in only 94 games.
However, the front office drew criticism for not adding additional pitching at the 2019 deadline outside of relievers Sam Dyson and Sergio Romo. But in 2022, Falvey got aggressive and added starter Tyler Mahle, closer Jorge Lopez, and reliever Michael Fulmer to the fold. Even though the club didn’t make the postseason, the front office was in first place at the time and took noticeable action to try and keep the club competitive.
After an unsuccessful 2021 season, Falvey had to keep the vibes good in the clubhouse again. The Twins traded Josh Donaldson to the Yankees for Gio Urshela and Gary Sanchez. Replacing Donaldson with Correa helped bring the clubhouse together. Correa became Minnesota’s first genuine leader in production and leadership since Cruz.
But not every move has been perfect. The decision to trade their best bullpen arm, Taylor Rogers, less than 24 hours before Opening Day didn’t sit well with fans. The Twins got Chris Paddack and Emilio Pagán in return, and Paddack needed Tommy John surgery within a month of joining the team. Pagán would have been more productive for the Twins if he had just stayed away after the first month of the 2022 campaign.
Pagán remains to be on the roster after a poor season, so maybe Falvey hasn’t learned every lesson quite yet. Maybe Pagán staying is for depth purposes. However, the Twins could find a guy with a 4.43 ERA and 1.71 HR/9 anywhere on the waiver wire or minor league free agent list. Falvey might not quite be ready to admit he was wrong on Pagán being some kind of impact arm for the Twins bullpen.
Paddack was re-signed recently to a three-year, $3.25 million contract extension, another double-down for Falvey on the Rogers deal. This move is more justified than extending Pagán, considering it’s relatively cheap and adds another year past arbitration before Paddack hits free agency in 2026. Replacing a starting pitcher like Paddack is much more challenging than finding a bullpen arm around Pagán’s level.
So has Falvey learned his lesson yet on this one? Probably not yet. More often than not, though, the Twins front office knows what direction to steer the ship to after getting themselves into a storm.
Plenty of questions will need to be answered for the 2023 Minnesota Twins to be competitive. After learning the hard way last season, Falvey is making sure depth isn’t one of them.