Twins Inbox: Who will be closer in 2021?

February 5th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- Well, Twins fans, there's all of that offseason activity that you've been waiting for.

When we last assembled for a Twins Inbox, the club had only added in free agency. Since then, Minnesota has also tacked on , , and , with a trade for right-hander and a waiver claim for mixed in there, too. In doing so, the club has addressed most of its pressing needs and looks to be a finishing move or two away from being in good shape heading into 2021.

Let's take a look at what that means for the Twins in this week's Inbox.

Do you see save opportunities being split among , Robles and Colomé?
-- Brandon K., Faribault, Minn.

That's what I'm expecting. is obviously good enough to be included in that bunch, but he's flourished in that more versatile fireman role over the past two seasons, escaping jams and pitching earlier in games, and I'd expect that's where he'll stay.

As for eighth and ninth innings, we've learned over the past two seasons that there's nothing manager Rocco Baldelli and pitching coach Wes Johnson like more than having freedom for flexibility and playing matchups. The way that played out in practice was that Rogers would mostly pitch ninth innings (with occasional appearances from ), but the Twins now have three players with late-innings stuff and closing experience, and more significantly, each offers a different look that might play more effectively in certain matchups -- and against certain parts of opposing lineups.

Rogers, for example, has been solid against both righties and lefties with his hard sinker and combination of breaking balls, but Robles now brings in a hard fastball and changeup, while Colomé brings a fastball-cutter mix to the table. None will be fazed by the pressure of high-leverage situations, either. The Twins almost certainly won't name a single closer (that's not Baldelli's style), and I'd expect things to play out with flexible usage in the final innings.

What do you think about transferring to second base?
-- Mitch H., Mahtomedi, Minn.

I think it's a great move for the team and for Polanco. Despite his work with infield coach Tony Díaz, Polanco likely wasn't ever going to be a true defensive asset at shortstop, where he's been worth negative outs above average throughout his career, according to Statcast, and broke even last year. But when Polanco takes that skillset and the shortstop instincts across the bag to second base, everything should play up, and he'll be a defensive improvement there from , who played an acceptable but not stellar second base.

Second base is not an unfamiliar position for Polanco, who made 200 appearances there as a Minor Leaguer, and more significantly, it should be a less physically rigorous position than short, where he played through injuries for the past two seasons. Seeing as Polanco is coming off ankle surgeries in consecutive offseasons, any factor that will help him stay healthy and on the field should help the team.

Who is the player(s) you think will have the most impact on this year’s team that no one expects? (Ex. 2019’s Luis Arraez, Mitch Garver... 2020’s Ryan Jeffers, Caleb Thielbar, Matt Wisler)
-- Erik H., Naperville, Ill.

I'll go with young right-hander . He struggled in his first (and only) taste of the Majors in September, allowing four hits and three runs in one-third inning. But much in the way that emerged as a key bullpen piece in 2020, Colina could be poised for a step forward into a more prominent role this year. His stuff can really play -- I saw him touch 100 mph with the fastball in spring -- and that slider is legit.

The Twins haven't been shy about throwing less-established pitchers into meaningful game situations over the past two seasons (just ask ), and Colina fits the mold as a 23-year-old with a solid Minor League track record and the stuff that should help him make a quick adjustment to a big league bullpen role.

Every season, a couple of players are out of options and are favored to make the roster based at least partially on that. Is there anyone who falls into that category for the 2021 Twins?
-- Nate G., Shakopee, Minn.

The only out-of-options player on the roster bubble this camp is , who first joined the 40-man roster after the 2017 season and was optioned to the Minors in '18, '19 and '20. He hasn't had the easiest transition to the Majors as the owner of a 6.18 ERA in '19 and a 6.06 mark in '20, but his strikeout numbers were solid in his debut season, and he remained a highly regarded prospect throughout his rise in the Twins' system.

He's got a starter's arsenal without overpowering stuff, so his path to the roster is likely as a competitor for a rotation spot or as a long relief swingman type. The trouble is that the Twins have been quick to swap out that long relief spot in their bullpen to keep fresh arms at the Major League level, which won't be possible for Thorpe this season. On the other hand, he is a starting option with MLB experience during a season in which Baldelli and Johnson will likely be cautious with pitcher usage due to the challenges of expanding from a 60-game season to a 162-game season, which could give Thorpe value.

Can we expect the same performance out of in a full 162-game season? Can we expect 200-plus innings out of him?
-- Jim S., Eagan, Minn.

Frankly, I'd be surprised if any Twins starter reached 200 innings in 2021 due to the aforementioned concerns about adding significantly to a pitcher's workload after a shortened season. It's also worth noting that Maeda has never exceeded that mark as a Major Leaguer (though his contract structure and the fact that the Dodgers would shuttle him into the bullpen likely played into that), and that extrapolating 2020 to a full 162-game season would still only put Maeda at 180 innings.

So, I'd say it's a no on 200 innings, especially as teams better adjust pitcher usage for the third-time-through-the-order penalty that almost all hurlers face.

As for whether the Twins can continue to expect that kind of performance from Maeda, there isn't necessarily anything in the underlying numbers that would suggest a regression, but it's also tough to predict how any pitcher will respond to the sudden decrease and increase in workload caused by the shortened 2020 season. For what it's worth, his 2.70 ERA was actually mostly in line with what his FIP (3.00) and xERA (2.76) would predict based on his walks, strikeouts and quality of contact numbers, and Maeda's track record of consistently inducing weak contact throughout his career would indicate that his batted-ball performance last year wasn't exactly an outlier.