When we last saw our heroes in December, they were standing at the precipice of a cliff. They were intent on repelling down said cliff but the rope they were carrying was worn and frayed. How would our daring heroes proceed? Would they craft themselves a better rope, or would they throw caution and reason to the wind?
Well, to get an answer, let's check in on what the Twins did to improve their pitching staff this offseason.
They brought in Fernando Abad as a non-roster invitee. That's it. That's all that the Twins did to supplement a staff that was last in the league in strikeout rate. Sure, a full season of Trevor May in the bullpen will aid that. But considering that the Twins were actually in the hunt for a playoff spot last year, it's mystifying. It's a huge part of why PECOTA projects the team for only 79 wins. That, and the fact that three of the projected starting position players (Kurt Suzuki, Eddie Rosario and Eduardo Escobar) are all given negative predicted values.
So is there any way that the Twins can be successful in 2016? Not really, no. But if they were to be competitive and win anything like, say, 86 games, here's how they'd do it.
Miguel Sano, destroyer of worlds
Sano would have to take all the really cool stuff he did last year (.269/.385/.530, 18 homers in 335 PA) and do it again, but over the course of a full season. Sano has the potential to be an all-world slugger when all is said and done. He'd need to reach his ceiling as soon as humanly possible to help push the Twins into relevancy. Of the innumerable things likely to happen this season, including Mike Trout being very good at baseball and the Braves losing 100 games, this is not one of them.
He'd also need to do it while not making a complete fool of himself in right field. Sano is an especially large human being and isn't particularly mobile. His routes have been adventurous at best during Spring Training, and mobility in general will be an issue. In short, Sano will have to be an MVP candidate. He's good. He's exceptionally good. But Sano isn't ready to assume that role just yet.
Jose Berrios: Rookie of the Year
Berrios is the 17th-best prospect in affiliated ball according to Baseball Prospectus, and the 4th best right-handed pitcher. The 21-year-old compiled a 2.87 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A in 2015, striking out 175 men along the way. He's going to crack the big league rotation this year. Berrios is a ridiculously talented guy, who should already be on your shortlist for the AL Rookie of the Year Award if you do, in fact, maintain a preseason shortlist for sports awards.
If the Twins are going to sniff October, Berrios will pretty much have to win it. In case it wasn't made clear earlier, the Twins' rotation is capital-B Bad. They're going to probably roll with Phil Hughes on Opening Day, and Phil Hughes is... Phil Hughes. PECOTA thinks Hughes will be worth only 1.5 WARP this year, and that's the highest praise it has for any Minnesota starter. Berrios will have to come in like a bat out of hell and pitch like Tom Seaver, and the rest of the staff will have to perform in kind. It will help that Glen Perkins, Kevin Jepsen and May could actually be a rather formidable trio at the back of the bullpen. But Berrios will need to be excellent, as he's likely the most talented pitcher in the entire system. That alone will not be enough to make the Twins have a presentable rotation. Berrios will need to pitch like he's the best in the system, too.
We all know that Byron Buxton is a talented player. He went second overall in his draft, and spent a few years atop all sorts of top prospects lists. However, he's done nothing but get hurt when he's not smacking the everloving hell of out baseballs, and he struggled mightily when he came up last year. PECOTA actually sees Buxton as Minnesota's personal MVP (4.6 WARP!), largely due to his excellent defense in center and the pop in his bat. Yet that's assuming that Buxton can indeed hit enough to merit his continued presence in the lineup.
This isn't to say that Buxton is a bust, but he's probably going to take a while to fully settle in at the highest level. Buxton will need immediately dispel those doubts and start hitting with aplomb if the Twins are to truly be a force to be reckoned with. Until that time, he may as well be Aaron Hicks.
Forces both foreign and domestic
The Twins will also need some outside help to pull this off. First, they'll need to trade for someone. As currently constructed, the Twins are woefully incomplete. Holes at shortstop and outfield and in the rotation are crying out to be plugged in a most desperate way. Fortunately, Minnesota still has a lot of prospect wealth with which to make a deal. Rentals like Josh Reddick, Andrew Cashner, Yunel Escobar, Erick Aybar, and Clay Buchholz are all potential fits, depending on the status of their current clubs.
Other teams in the division will also need to falter. The Tigers are already prime candidates for a tumble, given their dependence on older players like Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez and the precarious nature of their starting rotation. There's a not-inconceivable scenario in which the Indians never really make it out of the gate, or the Royals' rotation proves to be too shoddy to be salvaged by their incredible bullpen. The Royals could also waltz right back into the World Series, but that's just how baseball is.
It's undoubtedly an uphill battle for Minnesota, and one that they're not likely to win. There's a kernel of talent here, but it likely needs more time to develop and a better support network around it. The Twins are maddeningly mediocre, and last year's unexpected success could have been a springboard.
Instead, it's an outlier. Now the waiting begins.