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2022 AL Central Preview: Minnesota Twins

After some big deals and smart trades, the Twins look ready to contend in 2022

Boston Red Sox v Minnesota Twins Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

I have a secret: I find it hard to dislike the Twins.

Since 2018, Cleveland has been five games below .500 against the Twins, so I know should not like them. But what do they have to show for it? A loss in the Wild Card round in 2020 and the ALDS in ‘19 — in other words, no better than what the ‘Dians have in the same span. Likewise, the Minneapolis-St. Paul market is only a few hundred thousand larger than Cleveland and they have (in theory) similar resources as a smaller market team.

The biggest difference, it seems, is that Twins’ ownership invests in their team, doesn’t let franchise players walk away, and is committed to providing fans with an engaging and entertaining experience on the field. The Twins have done quite well since luring Derek Falvey to the organization from Cleveland in 2016. In that time, they’ve posted a record of 262-222 through creative development, trades, and by signing many players to good contracts. Since 2019 (the earliest Roster Resource has numbers available), the Twins payroll has not dipped below $122 million (for reference, Cleveland has decreased from $124 million in 2019 to an estimated $51 million this year over that time).

I might be engaging in some recency bias here, because it was not that long ago (2011-2014) that the Twins reeled off four consecutive seasons with 70 wins or fewer. But during that time they also committed a large amount of money to keep their franchise player, Joe Mauer, at home. That deal did not work out the best because of injuries, but it’s still the kind of deal you hope your franchise makes.

2021 in review

As for that recency bias I’m suffering from, well it’s not due to 2021. Last season the Twins were a disappointing 73-89 and last in the AL Central. Despite decent offense (101 wRC+), most of the damage came from slugging (.423, ninth) and the team’s mediocre ability to get on base (.314, 18th) held back their run-scoring potential. Pitching was the biggest achilles heel for the twins, however, as the team managed just 8.2 fWAR from its pitchers (24th), including just 5.8 (25th) from starters, and a bullpen group that stranded just 70.3% of baserunners (22nd).

Additions and subtractions

Key addition: SS Carlos Correa
This offseason the Twins doled out big money to ink shortstop Carlos Correa to the most lucrative annual deal for an infielder, which pretty much immediately vaulted them to contender status. But that wasn’t their only important piece of business, as they opted to extend center fielder Byron Buxton’s contract (despite his past injury history) as well. In addition, adding catcher Gary Sánchez and third baseman Gio Urshela really helped to balance the offense. The Twins bolstered the biggest weakness from 2021, the pitching staff, by trading with the Reds to add Sonny Gray and signing free agent Chris Archer.

After a year of ridiculously mediocre AL Central competition, the Twins’ moves this offseason were an aggressive attempt to get back in the playoff hunt. It’s a laudable example of exactly what the MLBPA hoped to see from teams on the bubble.

Other additions: SP Dylan Bundy, RP Joe Smith,

Key subtraction: 3B Josh Donaldson
The big departure this offseason was a previous big signing, Josh Donaldson, sending him to the Yankees in the deal for Sánchez and Urshela.

Other subtractions: RP Alex Colomé, INF Willians Astudillo

Projected lineup

  • CF: Byron Buxton
  • 2B: Jorge Polanco
  • SS: Carlos Correa
  • DH: Luis Arraez
  • 1B: Miguel Sanó
  • RF: Max Kepler
  • C: Gary Sánchez
  • LF: Alex Kiriloff
  • 3B: Gio Urshela
  • Bench: Ryan Jeffers, Jose Miranda, Nick Gordon, Brent Rooker
Projections via FanGraphs’ Roster Resource

Minnesota’s depth is not, say, what the Dodgers boast, but among the landscape of the AL Central it looks plenty good. While Sánchez and young backup catcher Jeffers don’t project to be an offensive juggernaut, they should comfortably be among the top half of batteries in the league. Similarly, Sanó has never blossomed into a multiple-tool player, but he seems a lock for 25 home runs when healthy and is certainly a scary bat in the middle of the Twins’ lineup. Across the diamond, Urshela offers similarly steady production, albeit with less power, and Arraez at DH is quietly one of the best consistent hitters in the majors.

Up the middle is where Minnesota will be really dangerous, however. With Correa locked in (and with opt-outs further incentivizing him to ball out as soon as possible), the 5.3 fWAR projection ZiPS gives might be light, because he will benefit from being in a lineup with guys like Jorge Polanco. Similar to Arraez, Polanco is simply under-appreciated as one of the best second basemen in all of baseball, which his projected for 3.9 fWAR bears out. Despite that, it would be little surprise if the best player on the team played just behind the double-play combo.

For years, Buxton has looked like an MVP candidate if he could only stay on the field. Since his debut in 2015, he’s played 140 games just once, but his talent is such that Minnesota gave him $100 million over the next 7 years. His combination of tools, not dissimilar to old friend Grady Sizemore, is that spellbinding and worth securing because he could absolutely meet and exceed his 5-win projections in a healthy year. Buxton is flanked by Kepler, who has provided double-digit home run totals and walk rate each of the last three seasons, and Kiriloff, who is looking to justify his 60 FV scouting report in his second season.

Projected pitching staff

  • SP1: Sonny Gray
  • SP2: Dylan Bundy
  • SP3: Bailey Ober
  • SP4: Joe Ryan
  • SP5: Chris Archer
  • Bullpen: Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, Jorge Alcala, Caleb Thielbar, Joe Smith, Cody Stashak, Juaan Minaya, Jovani Moran, Griffin Jax, Jharel Cotton
Projections via FanGraphs’ Roster Resource

As for pitching, well the Twins still don’t exactly look like the Braves of the ‘90s. But with Gray leading the way and Archer rounding out the five, this could be a solid, if not spectacular, group. Dylan Bundy will provide more veteran leadership and young arms Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan seem like solid middle-rotation guys. In the bullpen, Taylor Rogers is the rock at the back and is supported by Tyler Duffey, Jorge Alcala, Caleb Thielbar, and Joe Smith, who should form a fairly league-average unit.

The talent throughout the Twins big league roster leaves few areas of glaring weakness. Like the Guardians, their strengths are very strong, some of the best in all of MLB; unlike the Guardians, there are no ugly unaddressed holes on the roster — no stars and scrubs roster construction. The 2022 season could be a very good one for Minnesota, and they look likely to battle for the AL Central crown with the White Sox, with a place in the expanded playoffs a baseline for where expectations lay this year.