The frustration from some corners of the Twins' fanbase is palpable. After all, the team followed its first playoff series win since 2002 with a quiet offseason that drew mostly headlines about their reduced payroll.
Pitching was the strength, and it took a hit. Sonny Gray, the runner-up for the American League Cy Young Award, left for the St. Louis Cardinals in free agency. Kenta Maeda, who provided quality innings in the second half of the season, signed with Detroit. The only starting pitcher the Twins brought in was Anthony DeSclafani, who ended last year with an elbow injury.
It's fair to argue the Twins, whose pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Florida on Wednesday, have a worse roster than they did at the end of the 2023 season. But projection systems and betting markets view the Twins as a clear favorite to win the American League Central.
Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections estimate the Twins have an 88-win roster. The only teams pegged to win more games are the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros and New York Yankees. FanGraphs rated the Twins similarly, projecting 85 wins and over 50% chances of repeating as the division winner.
Those are slightly better projections than the Twins had entering last year, a team that finished with 87 wins. Why all the optimism?
Internally, there is a belief the Twins have fewer questions than they did at the same point a year ago. Royce Lewis was returning from knee surgery. Edouard Julien and Matt Wallner started the season in the minor leagues. Catcher Ryan Jeffers began as a backup to Christian Vázquez. Jhoan Duran was entering his first full year as closer.
"I feel good about those guys that are going to be in Fort Myers and I feel good about what we know right now about the health of the group," Derek Falvey, the Twins' president of baseball operations, said after signing Santana and reliever Jay Jackson to one-year deals.
The Twins, like all teams, aren't without concerns. They had luxurious starting pitching depth last year, opening the season with Bailey Ober and Louie Varland at Class AAA, then signing Dallas Keuchel on a midseason minor league deal. It proved important when they lost Tyler Mahle and Maeda to injuries in April.
Projection systems are bullish on the Twins' current starting staff even without Gray and Maeda. Pablo López is viewed as one of the best starters in the league while Ober and Joe Ryan are solid. Chris Paddack is the rotation's wild card. Twins staff members raved about the way he looked in the postseason and think adjustments he made after he underwent Tommy John surgery will provide a big boost. DeSclafani or Varland as the fifth starter is a fine situation.
The primary worry with the starting rotation is the depth behind DeSclafani and Varland. They were fortunate they needed only eight starting pitchers to cover last season. The Twins might add another starter in a minor move within the next week, but they may be counting on Simeon Woods Richardson, Brent Headrick or prospect David Festa to pick up important innings this year. Paddack hasn't thrown more than 110 innings in a season since 2019, and DeSclafani dealt with significant injuries the past two years.
Relievers are volatile in nature, but the Twins are projected to have one of the best bullpens in the majors. Duran, Griffin Jax, Brock Stewart and Caleb Thielbar are an excellent late-inning crew when they're all healthy. The Twins added to the group with righty Justin Topa, who held a setup role in a breakout year with the Mariners. If Kody Funderburk looks like he did last year, or Jackson pans out, it's a strong foundation.
The projections aren't as high for the Twins' offense. There's no seamless Plan B if Byron Buxton is unable to play center field. Willi Castro started 29 games in center last year, but he grades out as a better defender elsewhere. Austin Martin, added to the 40-man roster this offseason, is another option, but he played only 95 innings in center in Class AAA.
Buxton hasn't had any setbacks after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in October, which gives him and the Twins optimism he can return to center for the first time since 2022.
There is upside for the lineup, particularly if shortstop Carlos Correa and third baseman Lewis remain healthy, but the Twins don't offer much outfield depth and their lineup doesn't look as promising if some of their young players show regression. Can Julien and Wallner sustain promise they showed as rookies? Santana provides insurance at first base if Alex Kirilloff has trouble recovering from his offseason shoulder procedure, but Santana has batted below .215 in three of the last four seasons.
Offensive depth is important. Look at last year as an example: the Twins had Trevor Larnach, José Miranda, Nick Gordon and Joey Gallo batting fourth through seventh in their Opening Day lineup. Gallo wasn't brought back and the other three players are not locks to make this year's Opening Day 26-man roster.
The Twins had arguably the best rotation in the AL last year, ranking first in ERA and strikeouts. They're still formidable if they take a small step backward without Gray. If the Twins' offense looks like it did in the second half of last season, they're division favorites with Cleveland about five games behind them.
The offseason might end without the Twins making a splashy move. Maybe it won't matter.