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2023 AL Central Preview: Minnesota Twins

A closer look at Carlos Correa’s third-choice team

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins are entering Year 7 of the Derek Falvey era.

In Falvey’s six years as president of baseball operations, the Twins have averaged 83 wins per season, excluding the COVID-shortened 2020 season. They have made three postseason appearances in Falvey’s tenure at the top, including two AL Central division titles and a Wild Card berth. But they are also 0-6 in the postseason under his leadership.

Personally, I thought we were only beginning to see the fruits of Falvey’s labor after the Twins finished atop the division in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2009-10. But their reign over the AL Central proved to be short-lived, first cut short by the resurgent Chicago White Sox in 2021 and then buried further in the division standings when the Cleveland Guardians’ not-a-rebuild saw them make an earlier-than-expected return to the postseason in 2022.

We all know that baseball is cyclical. Just because the Twins flamed out after a brief moment in the sun doesn’t mean they missed their window. But if they continue to tread water, it’s difficult not to point to their inability to develop starting pitching. All five of their projected starters this season were acquired via trade. For comparison, four of the Guardians’ five projected starters for this season were homegrown prospects. On a completely unrelated note, not once in the past six years has the Twins’ starting pitching finished ahead of the Guardians’ in WAR.

That’s a playing field Minnesota needs to level if they hope to get back on top.

2022 in review

The Twins finished the 2022 season in third place in the AL Central with a 78-84 record. After starting the year with a 30-21 record through the first two months, which was good enough to hold a five-game lead atop the division at the time, they essentially played .500 ball through June, July, and August, before collapsing with a 10-18 record in the month of September. Worst of all, that month saw them drop seven of their last eight games against the Guardians.

Additions and subtractions

Key addition: SP Pablo López
A case could be made here for Carlos Correa, who broke up with the Twins at season’s end last year before sending them a late-night “U up?” text message after concerns over his surgically-repaired ankle torpedoed potential deals with the Giants and the Mets. But pitching has been a sore spot in Minnesota for years. To bolster their rotation, the Twins shipped All-Star second baseman Luis Arráez to Miami in exchange for starting pitcher Pablo Lopez and a pair of minor leaguers. López is coming off a career-best 2.8 WAR season with the Marlins, and Minnesota is betting big on the 27-year-old right-hander to anchor their rotation.

Other additions: SS Carlos Correa, OF Joey Gallo, C Christian Vazquez, OF Michael A. Taylor, INF Kyle Farmer, RP Dennis Santana

Key subtraction: 2B Luis Arráez
Arráez finished third on the team last season in wRC+ (131) and WAR (3.2). He was one of the toughest outs in the Twins’ lineup, boasting the lowest strikeout percentage on the team (7.1%) by a wide margin. Ultimately, the organization decided he was valuable but not invaluable, trading him to the Marlins to secure much-needed starting pitching.

Other subtractions: C Gary Sanchez, C Sandy Leon, 1B Miguel Sano, 3B Gio Urshela, OF Billy Hamilton, OF Kyle Garlick, SP Dylan Bundy, SP Chris Archer, RP Michael Fulmer

Projected lineup

  • DH: Byron Buxton
  • SS: Carlos Correa
  • 2B: Jorge Polanco
  • RF: Max Kepler
  • 3B: José Miranda
  • LF: Joey Gallo
  • C: Christian Vázquez
  • 1B: Alex Kirilloff
  • CF: Michael A. Taylor
  • Bench: Ryan Jeffers, Kyle Farmer, Donovan Solano, Nick Gordon
Projections via FanGraphs’ Roster Resource

The questions for the Twins lineup start at the top: Can Byron Buxton stay healthy? The star center fielder has looked the part of an MVP candidate at times both at the plate and in the field, but he has only played in 100 games in a season once in his eight-year tenure with Minnesota. This season, he is coming off knee surgery that he underwent in late September.

Correa remains the biggest bat in the Twins’ lineup, assuming his ankle is not the ticking time bomb that the team doctors in San Francisco and New York believed it to be. He was everything Minnesota could have hoped for last season, slashing .291/.366/.467 with 140 wRC+.

Third baseman José Miranda will look to build off his breakout rookie season last year, which saw him crush 15 home runs, slash .268/.325/.426, and produce 117 wRC+. Across the diamond, the Twins are expecting more from former first-round pick Alex Kirilloff, who has had middling success in his stints with the big league club the last two seasons. The first baseman suffered a wrist injury last season that required surgery and he has been working his way back from it this spring.

Looking at the three new additions to the lineup, the Twins are buying low on Joey Gallo, hoping he can bounce back from a horrific season split between New York and Los Angeles last year. Christian Vázquez should serve as a solid backstop, and Michael A. Taylor is good enough defensively in center field to keep Buxton off his feet but in the lineup at designated hitter.

Projected pitching staff

  • SP1: Pablo López
  • SP2: Sonny Gray
  • SP3: Joe Ryan
  • SP4: Tyler Mahle
  • SP5: Kenta Maeda
  • Bullpen: Jorge López, Jhoan Duran, Griffin Jax, Caleb Thielbar, Emilio Pagán, Jorge Alcala, Jovani Moran, Dennis Santana
Projections via FanGraphs’ Roster Resource

This is unlikely to be an elite starting rotation, but it has the potential to be solid. Both Sonny Gray and Joe Ryan finished last season with a better ERA and FIP than López. Tyler Mahle should be serviceable as their No. 4 starter. Kenta Maeda missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, so we’ll see what he looks like in his return to the mound.

The Twins need more from their bullpen, which ranked 15th in the league in ERA (3.84) and 20th in WAR (2.5) last season. But the only offseason addition Minnesota made to their bullpen was claiming Dennis Santana off waivers from Atlanta. Twenty-four-year-old right-hander Jhoan Duran is their promising reliever after finishing his rookie campaign with a 1.86 ERA and 1.5 WAR. He could eventually step into the closer role if Jorge López can’t replicate the success he had in the first half of last season before Baltimore traded him to Minnesota.

Before I go, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how amusing it is that Emilio Pagán is still on the roster after what the Guardians did to him last season.