The Twin Cities were the place to be this winter with the Super Bowl in town.
The Twins, meanwhile, have worked hard to make Minnesota more of a long-term destination.
”I wanted to go somewhere where they had a chance to win no matter what,” said right-hander Lance Lynn, the last in a series of shrewd moves made to upgrade a team that was already well on the upswing after reaching the American League wild card game with a collection of 25-and-under contributors.
That outlook seemed unfathomable when the Twins lost a club-record 103 games in 2016 and chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine barely touched the roster for 2017 upon taking over the front office. But that’s what is happening: Players seeking a stable, successful environment have eagerly picked Minnesota.
”I think we can sense that,” manager Paul Molitor said. ”Everyone is, with good reason, excited about what lies ahead. I think this is an attractive place to come to right now, given the direction and the talent level and all those things.”
To get there, the Twins took advantage of the sluggish free agent market to sign Lynn and designated hitter/first baseman Logan Morrison for bargain-rate contracts well after spring training began. They acquired right-hander Jake Odorizzi for a minor league shortstop. Earlier in the winter, they signed free agent relievers Fernando Rodney, Addison Reed and Zach Duke to short-term deals. They even made a low-risk addition for 2019, signing Michael Pineda to a two-year contract so he can recover from Tommy John elbow surgery and ideally help anchor the rotation next season.
After picking up Lynn on a one-year, $12 million deal, Molitor himself acknowledged his mild surprise at receiving another upgrade to his roster so deep into March. The Twins, though, have clearly signaled they’re serious about contending.
”It’s amazing what winning will do,” second baseman Brian Dozier said. ”Adding pieces to make a run at this thing, it’s always exciting.”
Here are some key angles to consider for the upcoming season:
After rising from last in 2016 to 19th in the majors in 2017 in starting pitching ERA, the Twins are poised for another jump with Lynn and Odorizzi joining Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson in the rotation. Santana will miss most or all of April recovering from surgery on his right middle finger, but there are enough off days to minimize his absence. Phil Hughes, likely headed for a long relief role, can also fill in.
The left side of the infield is a potential concern. Shortstop Jorge Polanco must sit out 80 games for testing positive for a performance enhancing substance, pushing Eduardo Escobar into a regular role. That gives the Twins less protection at third base, where All-Star slugger Miguel Sano faces possible punishment from Major League Baseball, which has been investigating a 2015 assault alleged recently by a female photographer. Sano has also struggled to keep his weight down and is coming off surgery on his left shin, where a stress reaction kept him out for the last six weeks of the 2017 season.
The other part of the equation that produced this uncharacteristically active offseason for the Twins was the willingness by owner and chief executive officer Jim Pohlad to approve what will be a club record opening day payroll of around $130 million.
”He has been nothing but supportive at every juncture,” Falvey said. ”Jim trusts us.”
BUXTON’S NEXT STEP
Center fielder Byron Buxton is the centerpiece of the young core, coming off a superb second half of 2017 that suggested he has figured out how to succeed at the plate after some rough stretches over his first two-plus years in the majors. He won his first Gold Glove award last season, too.
”Exponential growth: I think that’s what we’re all looking for,” Falvey said. ”I think Byron’s a great example of someone that when you support them through the ups and downs, you get the up on the back end. He did such a good job last year of keeping his head up when things were tough early.”
ON THE SCHEDULE
The Twins start the season on March 29 at Baltimore. Their home opener is on April 5 against Seattle, commencing their ninth year at Target Field with a 10-game, 11-day home stand. After that, it’s on to Puerto Rico to play the Cleveland in a pair of games considered home games for the Twins.
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