The Twins traded away their longest-tenured player, Jorge Polanco, earlier this week. They reeled in a good haul that includes a top prospect in Gabriel Gonzalez, a solid middle-reliever in Justin Topa, and an intriguing throw-in prospect in Darren Bowen. A veteran starting pitcher who is penciled into the back end of Minnesota’s rotation, Anthony DeSclafani, was the fourth piece of that puzzle.
But even after adding the 33-year-old, do we think the Twins are done making tweaks to their starting rotation as they approach spring training?
On paper, adding DeSclafani checks the box on their off-season to-do list. It adds a veteran innings-eater (when healthy) who can compete with Louie Varland for the last spot on the Opening Day starting staff. While that’s definitely worth something, it shouldn’t be the main course for a staff that could use a higher-ceiling addition.
That leads me to think the Twins aren’t done making additions to their rotation for 2024 and possibly beyond. Their sights could be even higher.
DeSclafani could be a solid contributor this year. However, he fits the mold as a Kenta Maeda replacement, a consistent but injury-prone veteran. But the Twins still need to figure out how to replicate the production they lost when Sonny Gray signed with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Of course, that could mean one of the internal candidates becoming a playoff-caliber starting pitcher. Maybe Bailey Ober or Joe Ryan find a way to stretch their success from the first half into full-season contributions. Perhaps Chris Paddack or Varland can evolve into a starting pitcher with the same firepower they displayed in the bullpen in September.
But those outcomes are far from certain, and Minnesota’s success demands a starting staff that demands attention, not curiosity.
The Twins still need a co-ace they can pair with Pablo López. And if one of the supporting cast members steps up and establishes themselves as a star beyond that, that’s icing on the cake.
Pardon me while I take off my tin foil hat, but I believe the Polanco trade was almost going to be much bigger than the deal they finally pulled the trigger on. I think the Twins had their eyes on one of the bigger-name arms in the Seattle Mariners rotation, and the trade nearly included Max Kepler in addition to Polanco and possibly even more.
It’s unlikely that the Mariners would trade George Kirby or Luis Castillo, but maybe the Twins were looking into Logan Gilbert, Bryce Miller, or Bryan Woo to try and fill their need for a high-upside acquisition in the same mold as Löpez last year. They needed a good young hurler to elevate to frontline status with a minor tweak or two. Could it be that the club was anticipating a trade that included Kepler and Polanco?
MLB Network’s Jon Morosi threw some cold water on that idea following the finalized trade, but I think the second half of his tweet does a lot of heavy lifting.
I’m led to believe that Kepler was very much on the table in recent weeks. He and Polanco were scratched from appearing at TwinsFest last weekend, but the 30-year-old outfielder ultimately attended the event. Was this turn of events a sign that the Twins were preparing to bid adieu to Kepler alongside his longtime teammate?
Depending on the intended return in such a deal, it’s possible that the Twins would have had to include additional prospect capital. It’s hard to see the Mariners parting with Gilbert, who had a 3.73 ERA with a 24.5% strikeout rate in 190⅔ innings pitched last year, for Polanco and Kepler on their own. But if the Twins threw in an intriguing prospect like Emmanuel Rodriguez or Marco Raya, that could balance the scales a little more.
But it’s a moot point now. Could the Twins still move Kepler in a separate transaction? Of course. But there was a blueprint of an intriguing deal we may never fully uncover. Instead, the club received a backend starter, a solid middle-reliever, and two intriguing prospects. That, and the hope for another big addition to the starting staff.