It was an offseason that started with a bang. First the trade of Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for John Ryan Murphy. Then the signing of Byung-Ho Park out of Korea to give the team more thunder in its lineup. After a surprising second-place finish in the AL Central behind the Royals, it looked like Terry Ryan was giving his team that one big push to thrust them into true contention.
It's been utter silence since then.
It's not as if the Twins have assembled a perfected roster, either. Runs should come in spades if Miguel Sano continues to dispatch unyielding justice on every baseball that comes his way and especially if Byron Buxton turns it on and becomes the player he may very well be destined to become. Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe are already good hitters, and Joe Mauer still yet clings to his good walk rate if nothing else. Offense isn't the main concern of this team.
Let's talk about pitching. Pitching is largely the alpha and omega of the game. It's fun to point to the Royals as a team that accomplished great things without an excellent starting rotation, but the Royals also had a bullpen that was touched by the heavens. The Royals had pitching that was just good enough, and they also figured out how to score runs and catch the ball at the same time. For proof that it's nearly impossible to be good at baseball without competent pitching, we have the Colorado Rockies. It's not entirely the Rockies' fault that they play inside the barrel of a cannon, but even decent pitchers are frequently reduced to a fine pulp at Coors Field. The Rockies will always have offense coming out of their ears, but a lack of pitching has crippled them of late.
How does this all relate to the Twins? Well, the Twins will likely have either Phil Hughes (4.98 DRA in 2015) or Ervin Santana (3.79) starting on Opening Day as of right now. The staff as a whole had the third-lowest strikeout rate in baseball with its 6.34 K/9. That's sub-optimal for a team that has designs on the playoffs. There are a number of interesting arms in-house (Jose Berrios, Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, Kyle Gibson) but none of them is likely to set fire to opposing lineups with consistency in 2016. What the team needs is another pitcher, and badly. As good as Berrios looks to be, the Twins can ill afford to plan on a Luis Severino-esque debut from him. What they need is a proven arm that can pitch in the middle or top end of a big league rotation.
Those kinds of pitchers aren't easy to come by, and when they're found they don't come cheaply. The Twins aren't exactly known for having the most accommodating payroll either. For context, Santana's four-year, $54 million contract is rather remarkably the largest ever given to a free agent by the franchise. The top-tier free agent pitching pieces are already off the board, and the major remaining arms are likely out of Minnesota's price range. The only options that make some sense are mid-rotation guys like Scott Kazmir and Mike Leake, who aren't attached to draft pick compensation as a result of mid-season trades.
A trade therefore seems like the more likely route for the Twins to add to their rotation. That doesn't necessarily mean taking a run at Jose Fernandez and blowing up the impressive core of young talent that Minnesota has put together. What the Twins should be after is decently young, controllable pitching that can be fetched without breaking the bank and immediately plugged into the starting rotation. With the newfound levels of parity in baseball, that's not a commodity that many teams are incentivized to give up.
Enter the Milwaukee Brewers. New General Manager David Stearns has shown that he's not squeamish about making transactions to inject the team with talent, and one has to wonder if someone like Jimmy Nelson could be had for the right price. Nelson's first full season, 177.1 innings of 4.11 ERA ball, was relatively pedestrian and uninspiring. However, the former top prospect sported a 3.91 DRA and pitched in one of the more hitter-friendly parks in the league. A move to Target Field's spacious confines could serve his purposes quite well. More than a tenth of the fly balls Nelson put in the air left the yard in 2015. That rate should plummet in Minnesota.
Of course, Nelson is under team control for quite a while and won't be eligible for salary arbitration until 2018. He also still has some prospect sheen to him, and therefore Stearns would likely require a fairly good package to move him. The Twins have the depth to pull it off.
Adding another starter would not only increase the overall quality of the Minnesota rotation but also afford prospects like Berrios more time to marinate and prepare for the big leagues. It would alleviate the workload of a bullpen that would be best served by not being overexposed and create much-needed depth. The Twins have a gaggle of prospects to deal to improve their big league roster. The time is now for Terry Ryan to utilize his greatest resource.
Or, he could keep all his prospects and pray that they all pan out and create a miniature lutefisk-eating version of the Cubs. Those are the two main options. One makes a bit more sense than the other. Pitchers are better than lutefisk. The Twins should add another pitcher.