A new, and younger, front office leads a Minnesota Twins franchise that was long known for its organizational stability.
On the field, though, in Year One of the new regime, the Twins will look very similar.
The top of the power structure changed with the hiring Derek Falvey as the chief baseball officer and the subsequent addition of Thad Levine as general manager after the club parted ways with longtime GM Terry Ryan last July.
The shakeup was inevitable after Minnesota slipped precipitously in 2016 following a surprisingly 2015 that saw the Twins challenge for a playoff spot until the last few weeks.
Falvey comes to Minnesota after nine seasons with the division rival Cleveland Indians in which he was most recently the assistant general manager. Levine spent 11 years as the Texas Rangers’ assistant general manager.
Little occurred over the winter in terms of player movement. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe was released, and Kurt Suzuki signed with the Atlanta Braves as a free agent.
The one addition made to the major league roster was Jason Castro. The catcher hit just .210 with 11 home runs and 32 RBI for the Houston Astros last year, but the Twins rave about his ability behind the plate, particularly in regard to pitch-framing.
“Catching was a focus of ours, and Jason was a target early on, and not just from a player’s standpoint,” Falvey told MLB.com after the signing. “A lot has been made about his defense, but we really look into the background of these guys. It’s important for the culture of our team. He checked every box and then some.”
The biggest priority for Falvey — who helped identify many of the Indians’ young starters — and Levine is finding pitching for a team that allowed the second-most runs in the majors last season and had the highest ERA from starting pitchers.
The Twins will have Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson and Hector Santiago back in the rotation to start the season, but they were still undecided on the fifth spot as spring training headed into its final week. Improvement across the board is the hope. The same goes for a bullpen that will be largely unchanged aside from left-handed newcomer Craig Breslow, who made the team as a non-roster invitee.
A model organization in the early 2000s, Minnesota lost more than 90 games in five of the past six seasons and hit rock-bottom with 103 losses last year. The surprise of 2015 — when the Twins went 83-79 in manager Paul Molitor’s first season — appears an aberration. In a division loaded with the defending American League champion Indians, the 2015 World Series champion Kansas City Royals and the perennially tough Detroit Tigers, contending in 2017 would be unlikely, although Molitor’s crew wasn’t expected to compete heading into 2015, either.
Minnesota should score runs. The Twins were 16th in the majors in runs last season with Brian Dozier’s surprise 42 homers leading the way. However, until Falvey and Levine can solve the pitching issues, the Twins won’t be a consistent contender.
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