Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Minnesota's Offseason Report Card

At this point, January is essentially in the books and February brings the realization that spring training is just around the corner. Pitchers and catchers will begin to report, and meaningful baseball will soon be here. After competing at a higher level than expected in 2015, the Twins have heightened expectations for the season ahead. The question is, how did they position themselves to compete this offseason.

Going into the winter, the most notable area of need for the Twins was in the bullpen. Once again at the bottom of the big leagues in strikeouts out of the pen (392), Minnesota needed to get better. The Twins owned the 10th worst relief ERA (3.95) and surrendered the 8th worst batting average against in 2015 among bullpens (.254). No doubt the biggest area of necessary improvement came in the form of left-handed relief.

Minnesota had relied on Brian Duensing too long, and in 2015 it caught up to them with him having posted a 4.25 ERA along with just a 4.4 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9. Void of other options until the acquisition of Neal Cotts late in the season (which resulted in just a 3.95 ERA and 5.9 K/9), Minnesota was downstream without a paddle.

To date, the Twins most glaring weakness has yet to be formally addressed, and that could prove costly. After seeing the relief market be filled with high dollar deals (Antonio Bastardo just signed with the Mets for two years and $12m), Terry Ryan decided to go a different route. Bringing in the likes of Buddy Boshers and Fernando Abad on MiLB deals, the Twins hope to shore up their deficiency with a low risk, low reward type.

It's Abad who appears destined for the left-handed pen role (outside of closer Glen Perkins). Just a year removed from a sub 2.00 ERA and coming off a second straight season of increasing strikeout rates (8.5 K/9 in 2015), Abad could end up being a great get for the Twins. With Taylor Rogers as an internal option as well, Minnesota decided to play the pen in a less certain fashion.

Moving the needle the most was the signing of a right-handed power bat, Byung Ho Park, from the Korean Baseball organization. Terry Ryan and the Twins ponied up nearly $13 million in posting fees to then bring in their new DH on a four-year, $12 million deal. Having clobbered more than 100 home runs in his previous two season in Korea, the Twins are hoping at least a portion of that power will translate to the big league game.

When it comes to signings, the minor league pitching deals along with the contract handed out to Park sum up the Twins activity. While agreeing to arbitration deals with all six of their eligible candidates, most notably Trevor Plouffe, the Twins have plenty of familiar faces returning to the fold.

From a roster standpoint, Ryan also helped to address an organization deficiency in dealing Aaron Hicks (from a position of surplus) to the Yankees for John Ryan Murphy. Now slated to backup and eventually supplant Kurt Suzuki, Murphy gives the Twins a legitimate option at the big league level. Minnesota no doubt hopes that Murphy will soon be joined by prospect Stuart Turner, and added depth with waiver claim John Hicks from the Mariners. While none of the catching options are sure things, the do provide potential answers going forward.

As a whole, the Twins offseason strategy appears to lean towards an aggressive movement of the young talent from within. Deciding not to make significant waves in the bullpen suggest that we could see the emergence of Nick Burdi, Jake Reed, or J.T. Chargois sometime soon in 2016. Should that be the route Ryan and Paul Molitor choose to go, it would be a commendable one, albeit needing to be seen to be believed.

Offensively, Minnesota will need to rely on a more consistent approach in the season ahead. Expecting to replicate success in "clutch" moments is a false hope, and the addition of Park should provide some added boost to an already blossoming lineup. The continued growth of top prospects like Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton will also be key for Minnesota to take the next step forward.

Although the Twins didn't make the waves those in the AL Central did around them, they may also have been best positioned to trust some of their internal options. The lack of a few key moves could come back to haunt them, and especially so if the aggressive approach internally isn't followed through upon. As a whole, the organization stood pat, and while it may work, the risk is going to be needing a big push for a significant reward.

Grade: C

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