It’s been months since the Twins’ 2020 season came crashing to an abrupt halt at the hands of the Houston Astros in the opening round of the playoffs, and after a glacial start to the offseason, nearly all the questions that needed to be answered entering the winter still remain.
Some questions (and answers) are dependent on the nation’s public health situation. Others are more Twins specific. There’s a large number of them remaining as certain things — like roster size or a universal DH, for example — still haven’t been fully ironed out.
In the past week, the Twins have seen two of their American League Central opponents make big moves in opposite directions — the White Sox reportedly signed closer Liam Hendriks, widely considered the best reliever on the market, to a multi-year deal, while Cleveland traded starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco and shortstop Francisco Lindor, the face of their franchise, to the Mets in an attempt to shed payroll. With just over a month remaining until pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., here are five questions still facing the Twins:
Will spring training (and the season) start on time?
As of right now, the 2021 season is scheduled to start on April 1 with the Twins traveling to Milwaukee to take on the Brewers. Players are scheduled to report to spring training facilities in Arizona and Florida in mid-February as usual.
But to borrow an often-used 2020 phrase from the Twins’ Taylor Rogers, it’s best to “expect the unexpected.”
It’s not hard to envision a scenario in which owners prefer to wait to start the season slightly later into the year to get to a point where at least some fans are able to attend games after a full year of lost revenue in 2020, but any attempts to shorten the season would be met with pushback and unhappiness from the players association. The players want to play — and be paid for — 162 games.
As of right now, everything is scheduled to begin on time, but whether everything winds up going off as planned depends on the spread of the coronavirus — not the players’ or owners’ wishes.
What do the Twins still need to accomplish this offseason?
This offseason has been slow for pretty much every contending team other than the Padres, Mets and White Sox. Before they report to Fort Myers, the Twins have a number of needs to fill.
They signed reliever Hansel Robles to a one-year deal in late December, but could use some more help out in the bullpen. They have Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios and Michael Pineda to head the starting rotation, but they need to figure out how to fill out the back end of the rotation, whether internally, externally or a combination of both.
Non-tendering Eddie Rosario left a hole in the outfield, but options to replace him internally include two of their top prospects, Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach. Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza both entering free agency means the Twins will need another infielder, likely one that can play shortstop and offer flexibility.
And there’s a big, glaring, Nelson Cruz-sized hole at designated hitter that the Twins hope is reserved for Cruz himself.
Will the Twins re-sign Nelson Cruz?
This is perhaps the biggest question of the offseason for the Twins, who have not been shy about their pursuit of the 40-year-old designated hitter. Cruz, too, expressed interest in a reunion at the beginning of the offseason.
Last year, for the first time ever, the National League operated with a designated hitter. This year, NL teams have been told to prepare as if that’s not the case, although this is something that could be re-negotiated. If it is, the number of potential suitors for Cruz would jump.
But for now, with only AL teams in the equation, the market is smaller for his services, and a reunion makes sense for both sides. Now, it’s just a matter of getting it done.
What will the payroll look like?
The ongoing pandemic has forced many teams into a situation where they’re shedding payroll for the 2021 season. We haven’t seen yet the exact impact that will have on the Twins or other teams around the league because the offseason has been very quiet thus far.
It’s no secret that teams like Cleveland are cutting payroll, but the Twins’ front office certainly has more wiggle room than that to make the moves it sees fit.
“I would say we remain pretty flexible, as Jim (Pohlad, the Twins’ owner) has said on the record. He’s been very open to these conversations,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said in early December. “… But when I look at it, I guess half of the decision or half the considerations is what happened in 2020 and what will transpire in 2021. I don’t think any of us know perfectly what that looks like right now.”
When will the market start moving?
This isn’t a question for the Twins per se, though it is one that affects them. Hendriks cashed in this week, but what about the rest of MLB’s top free agents? When is the market going to pick up?
With pitchers and catchers expected to report in just over a month, most of the top names remain unsigned. J.T. Realmuto? George Springer? Trevor Bauer? DJ LeMahieu? All are searching for a home. Once the top players are off the board, teams will start pivoting to Plan B and things should start moving quicker.
But it’s all a waiting game for now. And in past years, the Twins have showed that they’re fine being patient. The front office swung a trade for Maeda in February last year shortly before reporting to Fort Myers, and a year before that, they signed Marwin Gonzalez after workouts already had begun.