Way, way back pre-coronavirus, the honchos of the SB Nation AL Central blogs got together for a roundtable to discuss the season. As we never published any of them at South Side Sox before the season was shut down, this week we’ll roll them out, so you can get reacquainted with the teams that you will be so tired of seeing by season’s end. (Forty of 60 games, yikes!) Keep in mind, of course, that these were written before the season was delayed, and some team (and life) details have changed in the intervening months.
Today we meet up with our Opening Day nemesis, the Minnesota Twins. Managing Editor of Twinkie Town, TJ Gorsegner, drops the knowledge.
What’s changed for your team over the offseason?
For the first time in ... ever ... they are acting like actual contenders. Even when the Twins were expected to be good, they would rarely, if ever, go acquire big pieces. This offseason, they were players in the sweepstakes for several big-name pitchers, before missing out and pivoting to Josh Donaldson. They also played with the big boys on the Mookie Betts trade, and despite the drama, still ended up getting their guy.
Any noteworthy free agents or trades, new coaches or front office people? How will these changes impact your team in 2020?
Donaldson, obviously, for one. The biggest free-agent bat that was available comes to Minnesota, and sets a record for the Twins in the process. Donaldson officially moves Miguel Sanó off of third, and over to first, where many thought he would eventually end up. Donaldson is a much better defender at the hot corner than Sanó, while Sanó won’t be much of a drop-off from C.J. Cron, so the infield D got better, and the Twins picked up a big offensive upgrade in the process.
While the Twins didn’t pick up any of the top pitchers in free agency, they did successfully re-tool their rotation. Going into the offseason, only José Berríos was a lock. Jake Odorizzi accepted the QO, so he will slot in at No. 2, while Kenta Maeda comes over from the Dodgers to slot into the No. 3 spot. Free agent Homer Bailey will look to keep some of his magic from 2019 in Kansas City and Oakland going, in the fourth rotation spot. The fifth spot will be held down by either NRI Jhoulys Chacin, or a rookie in Lewis Thorpe, Devin Smeltzer, or Randy Dobnak. The Twins also lined up some high-end rotation reinforcements, with suspended Michael Pineda due back in September, and Rich Hill. In the bullpen, former Spider Tyler Clippard will be added to a strong group.
What guys got traded away, walked as free agents, or retired that will impact your team in 2020, and what will that impact be?
The Twins didn’t lose a lot of impact guys from 2019. Pineda and Odorizzi both ended up coming back in the rotation, as did Sergio Romo in the bullpen. Kyle Gibson is gone, signed with Texas, but will be more missed off the field than on it. He was an eminently replaceable third starter. Jonathan Schoop and Cron both signed with Detroit, so they’re gone, but otherwise the offense comes back intact. Luis Arraez had mostly supplanted Schoop by the end of the season anyway, and Sanó will be replacing Cron. Jason Castro for Alex Avila as a backup catcher is also a generally even swap.
What players that we haven’t heard of will we want to know about going into 2020? Guys with bigger roles, prospects that might be called up, or breakout candidates?
A few guys come to mind. Arraez got some press as a rookie last season, but will now have a full-time role at second base, and has a great approach at the plate, so could be someone to watch. Dobnak and Smeltzer both pitched well in limited outings last season, and Thorpe is still a highly-regarded prospect, so any of the three could grab a rotation spot and run with it.
With all of that said, I think I’ll go with Trevor May. He’s now a couple years removed from injury, and quietly become a shutdown reliever last season. Look for him to become a dominant set-up man for Taylor Rogers. The Twins bullpen as a whole could qualify is a “breakout candidate” because they could actually be sneaky good this year.
What are the general feelings of your fan base going into 2020: optimism, pessimism, a little of both?
There are a few “grumpy Gus’s” out there who think the team deserves a failing grade for the offseason, because they didn’t magically procure an “ace” and that the Twins’ pitching staff won’t be able to stand up to the Yankees in a playoff series. Most fans, however, are optimistic or at least cautiously optimistic. We are in uncharted waters, as the Twins have never quite reloaded after a successful season like this. We have every reason to believe that the Twins will be in the hunt for a second consecutive division title, and to be considered serious World Series contenders.
Who is your pick to win the AL Central, and why?
I’m picking the Twins. Cleveland looks worse than last year, but everyone else looks better. Still, Detroit and Kansas City are in the heart of the rebuild, so they aren’t likely threats. The White Sox are going to be a pretty decent team this year, but I don’t think they did enough to catch up to Minnesota. The Twins walk away with the division, while Chicago and Cleveland will duke it out for second place. And of course, we know the others will be cellar-dwelling.
What else should our readers know about your team?
This is going to be a really, really fun team to watch. The “Bomba Squad” put up a record number of dingers last year, but more importantly, looked like they had a blast doing it. Eddie Rosario seems to have taken a firm leadership role in the clubhouse, and he is a very fun personality, so the team will follow that mold. Adding a well-respected vet in Donaldson will also help. Willians Astudillo is still around. May has a huge following among people who aren’t traditional baseball fans, and Maeda is specifically known for his humor, so don’t be surprised if the Twins are among the most entertaining teams this year, outside of the win-loss column.