This has been one of the most confusing Twins seasons in memory.
By early March, baseball was mired in the lockout, and the Twins had almost no proven pitches. The front office could have declared 2022 a rebuilding season.
Instead, the Twins went on a shopping spree, acquiring nearly an entire rotation that included de facto ace Sonny Gray. They overhauled their bullpen, for better or worse, by trading Taylor Rogers. They made a flurry of moves to free up space for Carlos Correa, then signed him to a record-breaking franchise contract worth $35 million a year.
It’s not rebuilding. It’s okay for that.
By the end of May, they had 11 games above .500. After the team backed off for two months and gave the front office every reason to prepare for 2023, the front office went all out again, this time for three pitchers and a backup receiver at the deadline of negotiation.
All that ambition couldn’t thwart an obscene amount of injury. They used 37 pitchers this season. Even the best franchises have about eight major league pitchers they trust. No one has 37.
By the time they were in what might be called a pennant streak, the Twins were missing important pitchers and nearly an entire starting lineup: center fielder Byron Buxton, corner fielders Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach and Max Kepler, infielders Jorge Polanco, Royce Lewis and Miguel Sano and receiver Ryan Jeffers.
Look at all of the Twins’ moves against the backdrop of 2022, and it’s easy to conjure up the word ‘failure’.
There’s a more interesting way to look at 2022.
As a prelude to 2023.
By trying to wrestle this year, the Twins may have built a contender for next year.
Here are the players who are likely to be available to them when they pick their Opening Day roster six months from now:
Starting pitchers: Gray, Joe Ryan, Tyler Mahle, Kenta Maeda, Bailey Ober, Josh Winder, Cole Sands, Louie Varland, Simeon Woods Richardson.
Relievers: Jorge Lopez, Jhoan Duran, Caleb Thielbar, Jorge Alcala, Griffin Jax, Jovani Moran, Trevor Megill, Randy Dobnak and all starters are reassigned as relievers.
Outfielders: Buxton, Kirilloff, Larnach, Kepler, Matt Wallner, Kyle Garlick, Nick Gordon.
Infielders: Luis Arraez, Jose Miranda, Polanco, Gio Urshela, maybe Correa or a free agent shortstop and Lewis once healthy.
Seekers: Jeffers and a substitute.
It’s without any free agent moves.
The rise of top prospects combined with trades that have controlled key pitchers for 2023 — Lopez and Mahle — will give the Twins a deep, versatile and big-league talent roster next year.
Given all that promise, here is my full plan to make the Twins a winning team over 90 in 23:
- Nurse Buxton has regained her health.
- See No. 1.
Even with all their other injuries, setbacks, mistakes and frustrations this season, the Twins were 47-39 when Buxton was in their starting XI. That’s winning 55% of the games.
The Twins are 26-38 when Buxton is out of the starting lineup. It’s 41%.
Along with Buxton, the Twins were a playoff team. Without him, they were the Miami Marlins, although even the Marlins could have picked up a win in Kansas City this week.
When Derek Falvey and Rocco Baldelli took over the Twins in 2019, they introduced a never-before-seen ethos to franchise history. Pre-rest.
They believe in resting players before they are exhausted, to avoid injuries and falls.
Strangely, this philosophy has led to the highest injury rate in franchise history.
Whether fair or not, the Twins’ reputation as managers of player health will likely be determined by Buxton.
He has patellar tendonitis in his right knee. With plenty of rest and rehabilitation time, he should be able to recover and play 130 games next season.
If he does, the Twins are set for the kind of success they only hinted at this year.
With reasonable health, the Twins should win 90 games or more in 2023.
The question is whether reasonable health is realistic with this franchise or with Buxton.
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