the most critical in the Derek Falvey and Thad Levine tenure. Despite a 78 win season for the hometown nine, this is still a collection that should compete next year in a weak AL Central. To best position the club however, the front office has some work to do.
With departures, and dollars coming off the books, Minnesota should have something like $50-60 million to spend on talent before Opening Day 2019. That's a good chunk of change, presumably one of the higher numbers in the sport, but before looking at names we'll need to blueprint the areas of focus. There's a handful of holes that need to be filled, and prioritizing them is part of the process as well. Let's take a look at what the blueprint may look like.
In 2017 the Twins owned the 22nd best relief ERA in baseball at 4.40. The front office responded by signing Zach Duke, Fernando Rodney, and Addison Reed in hopes of an uptick. In 2018 the relief corps owned the 22nd best relief ERA in baseball at 4.45. Looking ahead to 2019, two of those free acquisitions have since been traded (both were on one year deals), and Reed put up a clunker. Elite arm Ryan Pressly was also dealt from the group.
Taking a look at holdovers Minnesota really only has three certainties. Trevor May, Taylor Rogers, and Trevor Hildenberger look like capable high-leverage options. Outside of that trio however, Minnesota's bullpen is somewhat of a black hole. Names like Alan Busenitz and Tyler Duffey haven't seen consistent big league success, and internal options appear to be running relatively thin. Given the impact relievers now have on the game, it's hard to suggest less than two impact arms be acquired by the Twins.
Right now this collection doesn't have the "proven closer" type, although I'm not certain that's a necessity. If Reed can return to form, giving him the 9th wouldn't be such a bad idea. Pairing the internal trio with a couple more firemen that can be leaned out to get big outs would lighten everyone's workload, and raise the overall water level.
Given where things stand currently, it seems near certain that Joe Mauer's playing career is over. I don't see how he'd be able to top the moment he left Target Field on, and a season of questions doesn't strike me as something the Minnesota native would welcome. Add in the fact that he'd be learning another new manager, along with his changing family dynamic, and I just can't find a way it makes sense. That means the Twins need someone new to start at first.
Tyler Austin is going to be in this mix, and he certainly should be, but there's a lot to be desired defensively from his candidacy. With Mauer out of the mix, the Twins could go the more traditional route of a power hitter at the corner spot. Miguel Sano could definitely be moved off of the hot corner, but again would need to show the defensive chops worthy of regular time there. Brent Rooker still remains a bat only prospect, and Zander Wiel probably isn't ready for that type of promotion.
How the Twins decide to address this spot is going to be interesting. All of the internal options have a couple of warts, and Mauer held the position despite being non-traditional in the stat producing categories. When a legend hangs them up you've got big shoes to fill, but how the front office goes about this fix should be worth watching.
From 2013-2018 the Minnesota Twins employed the 3rd best second basemen in baseball (in terms of fWAR). Brian Dozier also hit a position leading 166 homers in that time span. In fact, since Dozier came into the league in 2012, no second basemen has hit more than his 172 longballs. Transforming himself from a failed shortstop into a slugging two-bagger was an incredible feat. Don't let any of that cloud your judgement though, as Minnesota did the right thing.
In the final year of his deal Dozier owned a .712 OPS through 104 games for the Twins. It was apparent that a qualifying offer wasn't going to be an option for the organization, and getting assets in return was a very good proposition. Brian went on to post a .650 OPS in 47 games with Los Angeles, and hasn't started a Postseason game.
When looking to fill holes up the middle, the Twins have a few options. Although Jorge Polanco is miscast as a shortstop, he's certainly not an abomination. He could be shifted though, and a shortstop could be targeted instead. Nick Gordon struggled mightily at Triple-A and isn't a big league option right now. Really, you'd need to go down to Royce Lewis before you find a true shortstop in the system.
At the end of the day, expecting peak Dozier production from the replacement is a losing proposition. Second basemen typically don't launch 30 or 40 homers in a season. Polanco may be the best bat available, and Minnesota has some flexibility in that regard with how they'll fill the other position. An up the middle player is needed however, and it'll need to be one of starting caliber.
You could arguably put starting pitcher among the list of needs on a continual basis for eternity. That said, seeing it this far down the priority list when looking at the Twins is quite a nice development. Kyle Gibson, Jose Berrios, and Jake Odorizzi have spots locked in for 2018. Michael Pineda is also going to be in the rotation if he's healthy. From there, it's up to the Twins depth.
The front office could deem that Fernando Romero is ready to be the 5th starter right from the get go. That would hardly be a poor decision, but it would be a significant gamble in the depth department. Should the Twins go out and sign a guy that can slot into the top three of their rotation, the overall quality rises, and Romero immediately becomes a strong first depth option.
It was nice to see guys like Kohl Stewart, Stephen Gonsalves, and Aaron Slegers get run this year. In 2019 names like Lewis Thorpe and Brusdar Graterol could vault to the next level as well. The more patient the organization can be in terms of readiness however, the better results can be expected from the big league group. Minnesota could make a relative splash here, and with the talent already in house, it would make for a very strong overall positional group.