The Twins Got A Firmware Update

Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Sonny Gray became everyone’s hero when he spoke about the Minnesota Twins’ short starts last year. After his final Spring Training outing, he suggested that Minnesota’s rotation would adhere to higher standards this year.

“I don’t think we’re interested in going four innings and being happy,” he said on March 27. “I feel like we had a group last year that was pretty content with going four innings, [where] four innings and five innings is considered a good start. I disagreed with that then. I disagree with that now. But I feel like just the guys we have aren’t content with it either, which is what you want as a rotation.”

Gray’s comments felt like a backhanded critique of Chris Archer and Dylan Bundy, two one-time stars who turned into five-and-dive pitchers for Minnesota last year. However, it’s unlikely that Gray intended to insult his former teammates. Instead, he was probably building up the current rotation, which is so deep that the Twins could send Bailey Ober and Louie Varland to St. Paul to start the season.

Minnesota’s rotation lacks a bona fide ace unless Gray, 33, turns back the clock to his Oakland A’s and Cincinnati Reds days. Joe Ryan, 26, is entering his prime and pitched well last year. But he struggled in matchups outside the AL Central and still has to take a step to go from solid pitcher to ace. Regardless, Minnesota’s rotation feels improved this year, especially after they traded last year’s batting champ, Luis Arraez, to the Miami Marlins for Pablo López.

López pitched well in his Opening Day start against the Kansas City Royals, but he only went 5.1 innings. Still, he only allowed up two hits as part of a combined no-hitter – the second time that has happened on Opening Day in Twins history. López received help from his defense but also befuddled a rebuilding Royals club with his brand-new slider. He’ll hand the ball to Gray on Saturday, and Ryan will pitch Sunday. That will give Twins Territory a look at Minnesota’s high-end pitchers before the first series concludes.

The Twins didn’t sign Archer and Bundy to be the stars they once were, but they had high hopes at the time. Archer was an All-Star in 2015 and 2017 before the Tampa Bay Rays flipped him to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In Rays’ fashion, the trade was a heist; they landed Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows for the declining Archer. Bundy was once baseball’s best pitching prospect, but the Baltimore Orioles bungled his development. He had his best year with the Los Angeles Angels in 2020, garnering Cy Young votes in the pandemic-shortened season.

“You look at that 2020, I know it was a shortened season, but he did anything you could have asked of him,” Derek Falvey said when they signed Bundy in December 2021. “And I think this year, he again dealt with some of those injuries. Our hope is that we can get him healthy and pitching, and we can see a lot more of the 2020 version of Dylan over the course of a full season.”

Bundy owned a 4.89 ERA (79 ERA+), which was more in line with his worst year in Baltimore. Archer finished last year with a 4.56 ERA (85 ERA+), similar to his 2019 season in Pittsburgh and 2021 season in Tampa. Archer signed with Minnesota in late March, and the Twins said they did their due diligence on him.

“His agent shared a lot of the data with us, so his TrackMan data, his video. We got to analyze it. So over the last couple of weeks, we had stayed in touch,” said Falvey.

“Obviously, we had been talking about a lot of other things, trade market, and other free agent markets, but we stayed in connection with Chris. As we got a little further along and learned where he was at in his progression, really out to about 60 pitches, got tracking of all those pitches. It just helped us understand where he was coming into camp right now, and that was really helpful.”

In hindsight, the Twins should have gone to the trade market. Falvey was previously with the Cleveland Guardians, who built out most of their World Series rotation using trades.

Josh Tomlin and Danny Salazar were the exceptions. San Diego drafted Tomlin in 2005, but he did not sign. Cleveland got him in the 2006 draft and also signed Salazar that year. Similarly, Falvey built this year’s rotation through trades.

  • López – offseason trade with Miami.
  • Gray – 2022 trade with Cincinnati.
  • Ryan – 2021 trade with Tampa Bay.
  • Tyler Mahle – 2022 trade with Cincinnati.
  • Kenta Maeda – 2020 trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Minnesota’s next two pitchers in line, Ober and Varland, are homegrown. But they used trades to build their current rotation, which should be a harbinger for future success. It certainly was on Opening Day. López held his own while the Twins made 39-year-old Zack Greinke look like his prime self. Then Byron Buxton led off the sixth with a triple, and Trevor Larnach scored him, chasing Greinke.

Rocco Baldelli wrote the right code from there. Royals manager Matt Quatraro, also a former Rays product, replaced Greinke with Amir Garrett. Balldelli countered by deploying Kyle Farmer, who drew a walk, and Donovan Solano, who knocked in Larnach. The bullpen took care of the rest. It was only one game, but already it’s clear the Twins have installed their latest update.

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