There's no doubt at all that the Minnesota Twins were a nice surprise during the 2015 season. I, among others, predicted the Twins would hang around the bottom of the AL Central, as the superior-on-paper Tigers, Indians, Royals, and White Sox rumbled for the division lead and the Wild Card. Surprisingly, the Twins roared to an early hot start, and held on to stay competitive until nigh-on the end of the season. The final tally was a 83-win season, and a three-game wild card deficit behind the Houston Astros.
Now, going into 2016, the Twins look poised to move up the ranks of American League teams, like the Astros and Rangers before them. They're a team built around young talents like Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler, and home-grown talents like Joe Mauer, Brian Dozier, and Trevor Plouffe. Despite an iffy run differential -- they scored four runs fewer than their opponents -- this is a team that could continue to rise, if they're able to add a few new pieces to complement the core already in place.
That ... could be a problem.
See, the Minnesota Twins are not very good at one critical half of team-building: acquiring players from other teams. The Twins are great at drafting and developing talent, but it seems that every time they add someone from another squad -- by trade, free agency, whatever -- things don't go too well.
Quick, who do you think the best Minnesota Twins player was in 2015 that wasn't drafted and developed by this team? If you guessed Mike Pelfrey, he of the 12% strikeout rate and 30 starts this season, you'd be right. He earned 2.0 fWAR, which beats out the 1.5 fWAR posted by Eduardo Escobar and Tommy Milone. You could make an argument that Ervin Santana was better than Pelfrey -- a good argument, at that -- but as you know, Santana was suspended for half the season for using performance-enhancing drugs, and only posted 1.4 fWAR. Looking at bWAR doesn't change the calculation much, as Escobar posted a team-leading 1.9 bWAR, just ahead of Phil Hughes.
It turns out that every team other than the Twins had an acquired (read: non-homegrown) player worth more than two wins. Every other one. Even the bad ones. Even the other teams that lean heavily on homegrown talent like the Diamondbacks and the Giants and the Royals.
This is not necessarily a one-off event. Over the last 10 years, the Twins have shown a marked inability to acquire quality talent from sources other than their own farm system. Let's look at the FanGraphs fWAR leaderboards for Twins-acquired talents since '06.
Yikes. It is hard to imagine a run of offensive talents worse than what you're seeing right here. This is a collection of players who either were acquired for a minimal amount of time (Thome, Hardy, Hudson), other players who weren't very good (Tyner, Castillo, Suzuki), and Nick Punto. Now, it's possible that this is thrown off because the team didn't actively go after loads of external options. But this is a team that does not choose to, or is not able to, acquire impact talent on the offensive side of the ball ... from anything other than the depths of their own talent pool.
Bad, but not the worst. The pitching, on the other hand, is a bit better than the offensive side of things. And that's funny, given how terrible their pitchers have been over the last several years. Three of the pitchers on this list came over in one trade -- nice work! -- and Santana was possibly the world's greatest Rule 5 pickup. We're still not looking at anything amazing here. Phil Hughes was exceptional last year, but this year he regressed quite a bit. Mike Pelfrey is what he is. Carl Pavano was actually reasonably worthwhile, if expensive.
A cursory look at other teams sees acquisitions of higher peaks (more fWAR) as well as more depth (more good players overall). The Royals were in a bit of a similar situation, with loads of home-grown players and relatively little quality from brought-in talents, but they at least have been able to acquire a player of Lorenzo Cain's caliber. The Giants also have had a difficult time with acquisitions, especially on the pitching side -- Barry Zito has the most fWAR of anyone they've acquired this decade! -- but the team has had some successes of over three wins like Matt Morris, Jason Schmidt, and Ryan Vogelsong.
Brandon Warne -- one of the best Twins-centric writers working today -- has mentioned a few times what an important position the team is in now, on the precipice of real, sustained contention. Given the team's load of talent, now would be the perfect time to make a major acquisition in order to shore up the team's holes. The only problem is this: aside from a Rule 5 pickup, a talented trade of A.J. Pierzynski, and The Shredder, this is a team that hasn't been particularly sharp at getting talent away from other teams.
I'm not going to come out and say that the definite reason for the team's acquisition difficulties is due to a slow adoption of sabermetrics ... though I do think it might've helped them avoid a few free agent pitching decisions that look poor in hindsight. Sometimes it's luck (and Stanozolol), and sometimes it's making a rough choice. The Phil Hughes signing was lauded by sabermetric devotees, and looked great in the hurler's first year.
Regardless, the team is poised to compete next year, and it's incumbent on them to supplement their core with non-Tori Hunter talent. The good news is that the young, team-controlled pieces appear to be in place. Let's see if they can take the next step.
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Bryan Grosnick is the Lead Writer at Beyond the Box Score, and a columnist at Baseball Prospectus - Boston. He thinks that the Twins should break the bank to sign Jason Heyward and David Price, but what team shouldn't?