The Minnesota Twins are baseball’s favorite coin flip. They’re either in the thick of the playoff race and get to the postseason once in a while, or they’re not. Plain and simple.
The 2023 season is no different. Minnesota is banged up with injuries early, but still has the talent to make a playoff run. Let’s not forget the Twins were actually in first place in the AL Central at the All-Star Break last year. Moreover, they’ve made the playoffs in three of the last six seasons.
And along the way, the Twins have developed something of a playoff rivalry with the Yankees. It won’t be mentioned at all in the regular season, what with all their games against each other happening in April. But these two teams have faced off in October six times, with New York standing undefeated.
The Yankees might have the better team on paper, but the Twins also won out in the offseason. They made key additions and also kept Carlos Correa after his long, messy free agency. Come October, they could be similar to their rival Guardians and claw their way to an upset.
Greatest Additions: Pablo Lopez and Christian Vazquez. Lopez, though still coming into his own as a starter, gives the Twins an ace-caliber arm at the front of the rotation. He’s posted a 3.52 ERA over the last three years and does a decent job keeping the ball in the stadium. And yes, he is the Twins’ Opening Day starter.
Vazquez, meanwhile, signed a three-year, $30 million deal in free agency and gives the Twins some stability behind the plate. He’s streaky, but still a big improvement over former Yankee Gary Sanchez. And speaking of the Yankees, Vazquez knows them well thanks to his seven-and-a-half years with the Red Sox. He’s an intense competitor with a competent glove and that’s more than enough to make up for his streaky bat.
Greatest Loss: Luis Arraez. The downside of acquiring Pablo Lopez from the Marlins is that it cost the Twins the reigning AL batting champ. Arraez hit .316 in 2023 and set new career highs with eight home runs and 49 RBI. Even better, he led all hitters with a strikeout rate (K%) of 7.1%.
It was a good trade, but Arraez also wasn’t a free agent until 2026. To add insult to literal injury, Jorge Polanco and Alex Kiriloff are both injured. Both are essential to a successful Twins lineup without Arraez, and both are doubtful for Opening Day.
Arraez, meanwhile, played well in Marlins camp and is ready to build off of his career season.
Greatest Strength: Carlos Correa, hands down. Forget his lengthy injury history. It doesn’t matter that his ankle is supposedly a “time bomb” that sunk two megadeals with both San Francisco and the Mets. He’s still one of the best shortstops in baseball and can put up superstars when healthy.
And yet, because of deals with the Giants and Mets collapsing, the Twins re-signed Correa for a bargain at six years, $200 million. The contract also includes four years of vesting options worth a combined $70 million. This is a big, big deal considering the Twins are rarely ever players for big names in free agency.
Now, thanks to committing to a superstar player instead of again gambling on player development, the Twins can compete in 2023. Management knows it’s likely a two-team race between them and Cleveland for first place in the AL Central. A healthy Carlos Correa could prove a tremendous difference-maker for the Twins.
Greatest Weakness: Unfortunately for Minnesota, the answer is player development. Minnesota hasn’t had a proper standout prospect since Joe Mauer and no homegrown player since has really reached star status. What’s worse is that in the last few years, Twins prospects are known more for spending time off the field than on it.
For example, Minnesota used the No. 1 overall pick on 18-year-old shortstop Royce Lewis in 2017 and he had his second ACL surgery last year. Byron Buxton has played in more than 100 games literally once in eight MLB seasons, and has six years and $90 million left on his contract. Nick Gordon hasn’t had injury woes, but hasn’t put up great numbers for someone drafted No. 5 overall. The Twins haven’t developed a proper homegrown ace pitcher since Johan Santana either.
Gambling on draft picks and settling for middling numbers isn’t enough anymore. Minnesota’s front office needs to take a long, hard look at their farm system and figure out what’s stopping them from building regular winners from within. Cleveland does it effortlessly, so why shouldn’t the Twins?
What can we expect from the Twins in 2023? As of now, we need to assume the AL Central is a two-team race between Minnesota and the Cleveland Guardians. Even with all of their injuries and other issues, plus the looming White Sox, the Twins still had a solid offseason. Only another major collapse will keep them out of the playoffs.
This means that, as we mentioned before, Minnesota’s April games with the Yankees mean nothing. Both teams will play one another while still trying to figure themselves out. The Mets series at Target Field in September won’t mean much either, save for the maybe five New York fans who show up just to boo Correa.
The rest of the time, the Twins will hope they’re a good enough team to keep up with the rest of MLB and not just be the best of the weak AL Central.
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