With the advent of the new year, the calendar will officially turn the page on a disappointing 2018 campaign for the Twins. So, what will 2019 bring at Target Field?As things stand so far, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano will eye bounce-back seasons as the Twins hope that 2018 was
With the advent of the new year, the calendar will officially turn the page on a disappointing 2018 campaign for the Twins. So, what will 2019 bring at Target Field?
As things stand so far, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano will eye bounce-back seasons as the Twins hope that 2018 was only a blip on the radar of the continued progression of their young core. Depending on how the American League Central shakes out before the start of Spring Training, the Twins could be in a position to either add more aggressively for 2019 if the young core takes a step forward or stand pat, give their young talent more experience and use their payroll flexibility to their advantage in 2020.
Like most teams, the Twins were largely inactive at the Winter Meetings, but over the course of the offseason, they did add short-term reinforcements in Jonathan Schoop, C.J. Cron and Ronald Torreyes -- not to mention the impending return of a recovered Michael Pineda. But Minnesota still has some work to do before Spring Training begins in mid-February, with the most glaring hole being in the bullpen.
With that in mind, here's a list of five things the Twins have on their to-do list before Spring Training gets underway in Fort Myers:
1. Sign experienced relief help
A healthy Trevor May was a promising addition to the Twins' bullpen upon his return at the end of July, posting a 3.20 ERA, 36 strikeouts and only five walks in 25 1/3 innings. Taylor Rogers didn't allow a run after July 28 and posted career-best rates in walks, strikeouts and hits allowed while pitching to a career-low 2.63 ERA.
But beyond Trevor Hildenberger, Addison Reed and the aforementioned pair, the Twins' relief corps in its current form is full of inexperience and would be helped by one or two stabilizing veteran arms at the back end of the bullpen as the young relievers continue to develop. The Twins aren't the type of organization to hand Craig Kimbrel the record-breaking contract that he seeks, but from Joakim Soria to Player Page for David Robertson to Andrew Miller, there are other relievers who could be interested in potential shorter-term deals with higher average annual value.
• Twins' 2019 tickets
2. Address the starting rotation -- via addition and extension talks
The Twins' 2019 rotation is largely set with Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi and Pineda locked into four of the spots entering Spring Training. But given Pineda's injury history and the inexperience of young starters behind those four, the Twins could look to expand their pitching depth by adding a veteran starter. That would be especially important if the young core and high-ceiling free-agent signings can push the Twins within striking distance of the division crown come summer.
But looking ahead, there's far less certainty in the Twins' 2020 rotation. Berrios is the only pitcher who can be penciled into a starting role, with Gibson, Odorizzi and Pineda all entering their walk years. At age 24 and with his arbitration years ahead of him, Berrios' value will continue to rise, and there will be less certainty in his cost. Could the Twins start engaging him in extension talks sooner rather than later? Meanwhile, Gibson is coming off a career year, has spent his entire career with the Twins and could also be an extension candidate.
• Twins' 2019 schedule
3. Determine a plan for the young pitchers
If the Twins do decide to sign another starter, that would take a rotation slot from Adalberto Mejia, Kohl Stewart, Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero, Chase De Jong and other young arms competing for Major League experience. While chief baseball officer Derek Falvey isn't sure that many of the young arms are ready to establish themselves at the Major League level, the Twins' wide-open 2020 rotation situation would benefit from some of these long-term starting candidates getting consistent experience.
Stewart and Gonsalves flourished as bulk men in the "opener" strategy down the stretch in 2018, and the Twins could also put some young pitchers in multi-inning bullpen roles to get them MLB experience. But because so many of the pitchers knocking on the door of the Majors have been career starters in the Minors, Twins leadership is also wary of tasking them with adjusting to an unfamiliar bullpen role against big league hitters. If the Twins' rotation remains crowded, there could be thought to getting some of these young pitchers bullpen experience in the Minor Leagues before moving them back up to the Twins.
4. Decide whether to take a chance on a veteran hitter
The Twins are currently looking at a DH-by-committee approach, with the bulk of the at-bats set to go to some combination of Christopher Austin, Sano and Jake Cave. On the one hand, giving Austin and Cave, in particular, those at-bats could help their continued development, if the Twins choose to make that their emphasis for 2019.
But in terms of short-term success, the Twins also see an opportunity to lengthen the lineup via the addition of an experienced hitter, and have been approached by teams, players and agents that could provide a more consistent solution for the DH spot. The flexibility in the Twins' outfield defense and the versatility of Torreyes and Ehire Adrianza (and don't forget Willians Astudillo) mean that Minnesota isn't bound by any positional need in its search for a hitter. Carlos Santana and Edwin Encarnacion are now off the market, but Nelson Cruz is a premier DH who's still available.
5. Watch how the AL Central shakes out, decide whether 2019 is a contention year
This isn't necessarily an actionable item, but the Indians and White Sox are poised for two of the more interesting offseasons in baseball, and the ultimate aggression of the 2019 Twins could depend, in part, on the states of their division rivals' rosters entering Spring Training -- and looking way ahead, at the Trade Deadline. As things stand, there is much to be determined within the landscape of the division.
• Hot Stove Tracker
After saving money by moving Encarnacion, Yan Gomes and Yonder Alonso, the Indians are in position to keep their pitching core intact and add to their outfield. The White Sox could make an even bigger splash, as they're in the process of courting Bryce Harper and Manny Machado after adding Alonso and Ivan Nova. If the Twins are looking at a crowded AL Central picture, that could give them reason to be less aggressive for 2019 -- and the opposite also holds.
Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.