MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins went into this offseason looking for an impact addition, a “needle-mover,” as described by president of baseball operations Derek Falvey. They got him in slugger Josh Donaldson, who joins a lineup that didn’t really need much of an impact.
Minnesota hit a major league-record 307 home runs last season while winning 101 games. The Twins’ .270 batting average was second in MLB, but the leader was Houston at .274, so …
In other words, as the regular-season wound down, the Twins had few issues, and hitting wasn’t one of them.
Officially introduced on Wednesday, Jan. 22, Donaldson this week passed a physical and signed a four-year deal worth $92 million in guaranteed money. Rocco Baldelli has already started playing with his lineup.
“It leaves you with a lot of options,” the 2019 American League manager of the year said, “and generally none of them look that much better than the next option. But I’m sure we’re going to make it work.”
Yes, no manager — or fan base, for that matter — ever complained about a surfeit of hitting. Still, Twins fans have to be wondering about how their team will piece together a winning starting rotation, which frankly became the major offseason question as soon as the Yankees closed out a three-game postseason sweep at Target Field last October.
Solidly within their competitive window, the Twins, fans believed, would go out and finally sign a big-time arm. But if you’re waiting for a late addition to burst from the blue, well, it appears the Twins have their rotation.
“We never say never to anything,” Falvey said, “but we feel like we have a lot of good guys in the mix.”
Top pitchers Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda return, the latter two after signing offseason deals. The Twins added free-agent veterans Homer Bailey, 6-3 with a 4.30 earned-run average in half a season with Oakland, and veteran lefty Rich Hill.
A handful of young hopefuls could help round out a rotation, most notably Randy Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer — solid in a combined 11 starts late last year — but Bailey and Hill were signed to fill out a veteran rotation the Twins hope is rolling after the all-star break.
Pineda, 6-1 with a 2.88 ERA down the stretch last season, must finish out a 60-day suspension for testing positive for a banned diuretic; he can pitch in the postseason but won’t be available until mid-May. Hill had elbow surgery in October; Falvey said he will be starting a throwing program about the time spring training begins on Feb. 12.
“Our hope is that he’s pitching in some rehabilitation games in June,” Falvey said. Hill turns 40 on March 11.
As defined by the Twins, impact free agents composed a “real small subset” that included Donaldson, a third baseman who averaged roughly 33 home runs and 97 RBIs in his past six full seasons. The Twins “had conversations with … guys we thought were impact (players),” Falvey said, adding that owner Jim Pohlad was willing to turn his wallet inside out “if we had a good baseball decision to make.”
The best of the impact starting pitchers signed big deals for stupid money: Garrett Cole, nine years, $324 million with the Yankees; Stephen Strasburg got a new seven-year, $245 million contract in Washington. By comparison, the Twins will spend a combined $37 million for the services of Odorizzi, Pineda, Bailey and Hill in 2020.
That’s a solid handful of baseball decisions right there, and a lot has to go right for this plan to work. Odorizzi, Berrios and Pineda must repeat career years, and even in the best-case scenario, Dobnak and Smeltzer — or some other young arms — will make a number of starts.
There’s little doubt Donaldson will make an impact for the Twins, but how that translates to wins and losses will depend in large part on the impact made by some of the team’s less notable offseason moves.