MLB Team Roundup: Minnesota Twins

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Minnesota Twins

2021 Record: 73-89

Last place, AL Central

Team ERA: 4.83 (26th in MLB)

Team OPS: .738 (11th in MLB)

What Went Right

Byron Buxton was arguably the best player in baseball in the 61 games in which he was healthy. Jorge Polanco had a terrific season after moving to second base over the winter, hitting 33 homers and putting up some of the game’s best “clutch” statistics. That’s pretty much it.

What Went Wrong

For a team with World Series aspirations to finish in last place in the AL’s weakest division, the answer is “a whole lot.” Alex Colome’s early implosion cost the team a few games in April. The offense was poor initially in spite of Buxton’s breakout, and things got worse when he was hurt. The pitching staff started suffering injuries, too, and no one ended up starting more than 21 games for the team. Miguel Sano, Max Kepler and Ryan Jeffers all took step backwards, while Andrelton Simmons fell apart entirely, and promising callups Alex Kiriloff and Trevor Larnach weren’t able to pick up the slack. By the time midseason rolled around, Jose Berrios, Nelson Cruz, Trevor Rogers and possibly Buxton were all up for grabs. Berrios and Cruz were traded, while Rogers and Kenta Maeda suffered season-ending injuries that have left their futures in Minnesota uncertain.

Fantasy Slants

** Thanks to an ugly bit of service-time manipulation in 2018, the Twins have Buxton under control for one more year. Contract talks at midseason went nowhere, so it’s possible the team will revisit the idea of dealing him this winter. However, keeping Buxton and having him turn in an MVP-type season would seem to be one of the requirements for the Twins to return to contention in 2022. Buxton made hard contact about as frequently as anyone in the majors this year, and he remains a top defensive center fielder in spite of his injury history. He’ll have a higher price tag in drafts next spring, but still probably not too high to make him a worthy pick.

** The Twins are also certain to take a long look at the corner spots this winter. They have DH open with Cruz gone, and they could shake things up further by shopping Sano, who is owed $12 million for one year or $23.25 million for two years, or Kepler, who is a much better deal at $16.25 million for the next two years or $25.25 million for three years. Josh Donaldson figures to stay, but he can’t really be counted on as an everyday third baseman at age 36. Jose Miranda looks like a possible answer there after hitting .344/.401/.572 between Double- and Triple-A this year. Kirilloff figures to be a big factor at one of the corner spots, but since he’s coming off wrist surgery, perhaps he shouldn’t be simply penciled into the lineup initially. Larnach also has middle-of-the-order potential, but he finished up 2021 in Triple-A and could start 2022 there.

** Shortstop remains a question mark for the Twins after Simmons flopped as a stopgap. Royce Lewis, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, missed the entire season with a torn ACL and might be an outfielder anyway. Miranda was written off as a shortstop a couple of years ago. Austin Martin, the big prize from the Berrios trade with the Blue Jays, split time between short and center field this year and is probably better suited for third base if he were to stay in the infield. Nick Gordon finally got a look at shortstop at the end of the year, but he projects as more of a utilityman than a starter. The Twins could consider shifting Polanco back to shortstop for a year, allowing Luis Arraez to play second base, but that would weaken the defense significantly. Instead, they will probably need to look outside the organization for help once again.

** As it stands now, the Twins’ 2022 rotation would be comprised of Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober, Randy Dobnak, John Gant and Griffin Jax. Upgrades sound like a good idea. Ryan and Ober are pretty interesting, though. Ryan, picked up in the Cruz deal with Tampa Ba, had a 4.05 ERA and a 30/5 K/BB ratio in five starts after being called up. Hitters just can’t seem to find his low-90s fastball until it’s too late, and it helps that he has great command of the pitch. The 6-foot-9 Ober added velocity last year to turn himself into a real prospect and had a 96/19 K/BB ratio in 92 1/3 innings for the Twins. He’s a flyball guy, and homers will take a toll on his ERA, but he should contribute in WHIP and strikeouts.

** The Twins also have decisions to make on the bullpen. Taylor Rogers missed the final two months of the year because of a finger injury that required surgery, and now he’s due about $8 million in his final year of arbitration. There’s a $5.5 million mutual option in the contract of Colome, who rebounded nicely from his horrific start, saving 14 games during the final two months and finishing with a 4.15 ERA. The Twins could move on from him and bring in a different right-handed to pair with Rogers late in games.

Key Free Agents: Michael Pineda, Andrelton Simmons, Alex Colome

Team Needs: Trading Berrios left the Twins with a big void that was going to make contending in 2022 more difficult, and now the team will be without Maeda for probably the entire season, too, as he underwent Tommy John surgery on Sept. 1. The offense is in decent shape, aside from shortstop, but the club will have to spend a bunch of money on the rotation and also probably some on the pen if it wants to be a threat next year.