Last year was a dream for the Twins. They won the division for the first time since 2010, and cracked 100 wins for the first time since 1965. The Indians were the divisional favorites going into the season, but cheap ownership refused to address the team’s glaring weaknesses, which allowed for a surging Twins team to snap Cleveland’s three-year streak AL Central pennant streak. Unfortunately, they were (predictably) swept right out of the ALDS, falling to the Yankees, who outscored them 23-7 over three games.
Make no mistake about it, when a team wins 23 more games than it did the previous year, the regression monster is going to come for them. It appears that the Twins’ front office understands this, because even though they are more-or-less returning the same team from the year before, they made some key acquisitions this offseason.
Josh Donaldson and Miguel Sanó might be comparable offensively, but Donaldson’s vastly superior defense might add a win or two. This signing also effectively replaces C.J. Cron’s average bat with Donaldson’s superior one.
Kenta Maeda is not exactly a superstar, but he is a solid back-of-the-rotation starter on a team that needs it. I’m sure he will relish being back in the starting rotation on a regular basis.
Homer Bailey was shockingly good last year, which might come off as a strong statement regarding a pitcher who had a 4.63 RA9, but not so much when you see that he had a combined 6.86 RA9 over the three seasons prior. It clearly looked like he was washed-up, yet he pitched like someone that can be productive in the back of most starting rotations.
Rich Hill is good when he pitches, but his health is always such a big question mark. He will also be 40 years old by Opening Day, and we already know that he will not be available until June at the earliest. At $3 million it’s a very low-risk deal, so anything he gives the Twins is gravy.
Despite still serving a suspension for testing positive for the diuretic hydrochlorothiazide, the Twins decided to bring Michael Pineda back, even though he will still be on suspension for part of the season. He was quite good last season, turning in a 4.19 RA9 while walking only 4.7 percent of batters faced. With 2.5 WAR over 26 starts, he was an above average pitcher, though his strikeout rates have always been mediocre.
The Twins had the third best offense in the league last year when adjusting for league and park effects, but it is hard to imagine that it will be that good again, especially if the ball gets dejuiced. There is also no way that Nelson Cruz hits close to the .311/.392/.639 with a 163 wRC+ he posted in 2019. Still, this should be a potent offense that I would expect to rank in the top ten in baseball.
I am excited to see what Luis Arráez will do in his first full season in the majors as the everyday second baseman. Last year Arráez hit .334/.399/.439, which is quite an odd line, because you almost never see someone get on base that much while hitting for so little power. He has good plate discipline, but I can’t imagine he will be able to sustain a .355 BABIP. Most impressive is the fact that he struck out an outrageously low 7.9 percent of the time! His fielding is not very good, though. Steamer projects a line of .312/.369/.415 and 2.5 WAR for this upcoming season. With his plate discipline and contact rates, he could get away with hitting for so little power.
The rotation will by anchored by fellow boricua José Berríos and Jake Odorizzi, but nothing more than back-of-the-rotation starters after that. It is not bad by any means, and it will look a lot better once Pineda and Hill come back, but it is an underwhelming rotation for a contending team (though still better than what the Red Sox have).
The Twins have done such a good job with their offense, but not so much with the starting pitching.
This team would have benefited greatly from Gerrit Cole — whom I promise you the Twins could’ve afforded — but short of that, they would have benefited from signing another available arm in free agency. Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, and Hyun-Jin Ryu are just a few examples of pitchers they could have really used, even if the later years of their contracts do not end well. Heck, Cole Hamels only cost $18 million! Yes, he is 36 years old, but he is still good! Last year he had a 4.07 RA9 with solid peripherals and was worth 3.0 WAR.
The bullpen will miss Brusdar Graterol, but trading him for Maeda was the right move. As always, it is difficult to assess bullpens, but the Twins’ bullpen should be pretty effective in 2020, especially when Pineda and Hill debut and are able to push some back end starters to the bullpen.
PECOTA projects the Twins to repeat as division winners as a ~93-win team. It is a three-team race with the White Sox having improved so much this offseason, but projecting the Twins at a 77.4 percent chance to win the division makes sense. The Indians are trending downward,as they continue their refusal to spend any money on their team. By trading multi-Cy Young winner Corey Kluber to the Rangers for a light return, they signalled they’re not really looking to win in 2020. If they foolishly decide to trade Francisco Lindor sometime this season on top of that, they will also be trading away what is left of their chances at taking back the division.
As for the White Sox, they are doing very well in their rebuild, but they are not quite there yet. Chicago won only 72 games last year, so even with all their improvements they are still projected as an 82-win team.
This Twins team should definitely be a contender in 2020 and win the division without too much trouble. However, they might still struggle to compete with MLB’s elite, such as the Yankees and Astros (assuming their performances in recent years was not impacted too much by stealing signs). Of course, in baseball, you just have to make the playoffs, and then anything can happen.
. . .
Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.