2023 Rival Preview: Carlos Correa made it back to Minnesota… Can the Twins make it back to the playoffs?
By Evan Stack8 months ago
Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at each American League team and discuss their 2022 season, their offseason moves, and their 2023 outlook.
2022 Season Recap…
It wasn’t the prettiest of seasons for the Twins, who held the AL Central lead into early August until they became of victim of watching Cleveland go on a winning tear late in the season. Minnesota fell all the way down to third place, finishing 78-84 for their second straight losing season since winning back-to-back AL Central titles in ’19 and ’20.
Minnesota had upgraded at a couple of positions; in a series of deals, they added two-time All-Star Carlos Correa at shortstop, swapped Josh Donaldson for Gio Urshela at third, and replaced Mitch Garver with Gary Sanchez at catcher. While the latter two moves can be debated as if they were “upgrades” or not, Urshela had three of his best years in New York from 2019-2021, and Sanchez was an upgrade as far as durability goes since Garver had only one career season playing over 100 games.
Correa, Urshela, and 1B Luis Arraez paced Minnesota’s offence last year leading the team in hits. Arraez was the only player between Aaron Judge and a batting Triple Crown, as his .316 batting average led the American League. Arraez also won his first Gold Glove, his first All-Star team appearance, and even received some MVP votes after the season. Correa hit 22 home runs and 64 RBIs through 136 games in his first season as a Twin, and Urshela slashed a steady .285/.338/.767.
What hurt the Twins the most was losing CF Byron Buxton to injury down the stretch. Since his debut in 2015, Buxton has failed to stay on the field every year. It’s a shame because when Buxton is healthy, he is simply a top-10 center fielder in the MLB. Buxton had gone most of the year dodging the injury bug until he fell on the injured list in August with a right hip strain, the same hip he injured in 2021. Buxton made his first career All-Star game last year, hitting 28 home runs and 51 RBIs through only 92 games.
The Twins were also without some of the key cogs that had been staples in their lineup over the last several years. OF Max Kepler, 2B Jorge Polanco, and 1B Miguel Sano were all limited last year due to injury. Minnesota also had inconsistency at the catcher position, as Sanchez, Ryan Jeffers, and Sandy Leon all had batting averages under .210.
The Twins saw a couple of their young players emerge onto the scene in 1B/3B Jose Miranda and UTIL Nick Gordon. Miranda was drafted by the Twins in the second round of the 2016 MLB draft and made his debut in May of last year. He played in 125 games – almost every game since his debut – batting .268 with 15 home runs, 66 RBIs, and 25 doubles. Miranda played at both corners of the infield, committing three errors at each position.
Conversely, Gordon made his debut in 2021 but had a much larger sample size in his second year. In 136 games, he slashed .272/.316/.743 with 9 homers, 50 RBIs, and 28 doubles. While Gordon improved with the bat, his impressive value was defensive flexibility. Gordon logged time in left field, center field, second base, shortstop, and third base, and even pitched in four games.
Minnesota didn’t have too much rotational depth, and it showed when they were forced to hand 54 starts to Dylan Bundy and Chris Archer. They did get an encouraging season from Joe Ryan, who started 27 games in only his second season (and his first full one). Ryan threw 147 innings, going 13-8 with a 3.55 ERA and a 3.21 K/BB ratio. Ryan was acquired by the Twins in 2021 from Tampa Bay for Nelson Cruz, a deal in which the Twins won pretty handily. Cruz was a rental for the Rays, and Ryan may be a piece for the future for Minnesota.
Speaking of pieces for the future and fleecing deals, RP Jhoan Duran has entered the chat. Duran was acquired in 2018 by the Twins in a deal that sent Eduardo Escobar to Arizona. Duran made his debut last year, pitching to the tune of a 1.86 ERA and an 11.8 K/9. The most fascinating part of his game is his “splinker” pitch, a mix between a sinker and splitter that Duran throws as hard as he can. “As hard as he can” in the quite literal sense, as that pitch is the first off-speed pitch in the Statcast era to log triple digits. Some people say loosely that a certain pitch is “unfair”, but this is pitch is actually unfair.
The Twins made moves at the trade deadline as if they were a competitor, acquiring SP Tyler Mahle from the Reds, as well as relief pitchers Jorge Lopez and Michael Fulmer in exchange for a dump of prospects. Unfortunately, they weren’t enough to push the Twins to the finish line, as a 10-18 September record buried the Twins for good.
The Twins were quite vigorous this offseason in many different facets. They grabbed a few notable names, as well as built depth by acquiring several players with major league experience.
The most noteworthy transaction was bringing back Correa, signing him to a six-year, $200 million deal, including four additional vesting years. Correa fell back in Minnesota’s lap after deals with the Mets and Giants both fell through due to concerns over his physical. The concern was reportedly over Correa’s right leg; while he had the leg surgically repaired in 2014, there were long-term worries about his performance due to that injury.
Committing to Correa long-term is a risk, but it was a risk that the Twins were willing to take. At his best, he’s one of the best shortstops in the game – eventually, someone was going to agree to terms with him.
The next name that struck a lot of people’s attention was done by trade. Minnesota acquired SP Pablo Lopez and a couple of prospects from the Miami Marlins in exchange for Arraez. Lopez has been one of the more stable and consistent arms in the MLB over the last few seasons. Since 2020, Lopez has had an ERA at 3.75 or under with a K/9 of 8.7 or above. Arraez offered a lot offensively for the Twins, so it shows how much they believe in Lopez as a pitcher if they were fine with giving him away.
The Twins bolstered their catching depth over the winter, but it starting with signing free agent C Christian Vazquez. Vazquez had spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Red Sox, including a short rental stint with the Astros last season. Vazquez has proven to be a consistent hitter throughout his career, and also has the ability to play in the field.
Minnesota also signed Tony Wolters, Chance Sisco, and Grayson Greiner to minor league deals – three catchers with major league experience that the Twins may be able to strike gold on in case Vazquez or Jeffers goes down with injury or are struggling at the plate.
In the outfield, the Twins snagged LF Joey Gallo, who is looking to revitalize his career after a rough season and a half with the Yankees. Gallo is a two-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner and is only two seasons removed from a 38-homer year. He’s gone north of 40 homers twice in his career, and I honestly like the deal a lot for Minnesota. At his worst, he’s a platoon bat that they can plug in a lineup against a righty pitcher. At his best, he is an All-Star that should play every day.
Minnesota built some depth by trading for CF Michael A. Taylor and 2B Kyle Farmer, while also acquiring 2B Donovan Solano in free agency. The Twins struggled with injuries last season, and they’re making sure they have suitable replacements.
My take on Minnesota’s 2023 outlook…
While they got a valuable return in Pablo Lopez, the loss of Luis Arraez is one that will call upon some replacement. The production they got from him at the top of the order was statistically in the top tier of the league, so whether it’s Kepler, Polanco, or even Vazquez, someone will need to step up.
Another thing that the Twins really need is a healthy season from Buxton. The odds are stacked against him and the team, though, because it’s something that the MLB has yet to see. Staying on the topic of health, Correa is another player to keep an eye on. His health was the reason that the Giants and Mets dropped their contract offers, but the Twins accepted the risk. It will be interesting to see if the team made the right move in the first year of his contract.
A rotation of Sonny Gray-Lopez-Mahle-Kenta Maeda-Ryan is a good one, but after that, the depth is pretty concerning. Maybe we get an extended look at Simeon Woods-Richardson, who made his debut at the end of last season.
I’m intrigued by the addition of Gallo, who could be an underrated key to Minnesota’s success this season. As I said earlier, there is a floor with him, but the ceiling is still really high with legitimate production.
Minnesota has a very likable team. They boast depth at many different positions offensively, but I think their off-season adds were a lot of good ones and not great ones. With that being said, though, a good start to the season would make them a primary candidate to go and trade for a big name at the deadline. The AL Central is still up for grabs, and I don’t think it’s far-fetched to say that the Twins can end up finishing first. Regardless, they still have some things to prove before they attempt to win a playoff series for the first time since 2002.
- The Orioles had a surprisingly quiet winter after their breakout season
- Despite minimal off-season additions, the Rays will be better than last year
- Puzzling off-season decisions leave the Red Sox as a boom-or-bust candidate
- The Yankees need to do a better job at taking the pressure off of Aaron Judge
- All eyes on Shohei Ohtani as the Angels roll into another non-competitive season
- The Astros are showing no signs of slowing down
- The Rangers had another spending spree this winter
- The Mariners are looking to take another step forward after ending their playoff drought
- The pitching factory in Cleveland looks to take over the AL Central again
- The White Sox are looking for a rebound with new management
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