The first half of the 2022 MLB season is in the rearview mirror. The air is filled with excitement as the Minnesota Twins send two of their best to next week’s All-Star game. Nevertheless, uncertainty still looms as the club approaches the fabled trade deadline.
The Twins are a good baseball team as currently assembled. Not great, not terrible, but solidly above average. It feels weird to have to tip-toe into phrasing it like that while the club is in first place, but many fans have grown antsy thanks to the club’s 18-game playoff loss. If the club wants to snap that streak or advance even further, they’ll have to get their priorities straight.
If the Twins want to make the postseason, they need to trade for multiple relievers.
It’s not a secret that Minnesota’s Achilles heel has been their late-inning pitching. Aside from rookie sensation Jhoan Durán and Griffin Jax, the bullpen has been streaky at best and debilitating at worst. There aren’t too many surface-level stats that peg them as a major problem area. They currently rank 15th in baseball in ERA, 11th in strikeout rate, and 12th in walk rate. But a few metrics stand out when looking at the last two seasons.
First, they have a problem getting left-handed hitters out, which was true even before they traded away their southpaw closer, Taylor Rogers, hours before opening day. Opposing lefty hitters are hitting .252 against Minnesota’s relievers, which ranks second-highest in MLB. If they want to play the splits, their current left-handed options include Caleb Thielbar (5.34 ERA) and rookie Jovani Moran. However, Moran’s left-handedness hasn’t been as much of a boost. His pitches play up a little more against righties. Moran’s best pitch is a changeup that drops and fades away from right-handed hitters, whereas it falls towards fellow lefties.
The Twins should seek a southpaw reliever on the trade market. Someone along the lines of Joe Mantiply of the Arizona Diamondbacks (2.08 ERA, 2.02 xERA) and Andrew Chafin of the Detroit Tigers (2.30 ERA, 10.9 K/9) could certainly fit the mold.
Beyond getting help against lefties, the Twins could also use somebody with experience at the back end of a big-league bullpen. Not only do they need someone to help plug the holes in a staff that has 17 blown saves on the year, but they also need a better contingency plan if the bullpen is inevitably gassed from over-usage in the late innings of games down the stretch. Names Like David Robertson of the Chicago Cubs (2.10 ERA, 149 career saves) and David Bednar of the Pittsburgh Pirates would make sense on paper.
If the Twins want to win a playoff series, they need to trade for a frontline starting pitcher.
While bullpen help is understandably the first item on the team’s shopping list, the Twins should also try to make a splash by acquiring a playoff-caliber starting pitcher. They need someone they can pen into a postseason rotation alongside Sonny Gray and Joe Ryan. Those two have shown that they’re good enough to get the club into the postseason. Now they need somebody to carry the team to a win or two in October. Few positions have more impact on a single game than the starting pitcher, especially when they’re in the spotlight.
A high-end rotation addition via a midseason trade would represent a shift in philosophy for the Derek Falvey-led front office. In the past, they’ve been coy about parting with controllable assets in the name of “going for it.” But if they want to make a push, they’ll need to pay the piper. For an ace-level starter or even ace-adjacent, the front office will need to be prepared to say goodbye to rising-star prospects such as Spencer Steer, Matt Wallner, and Simeon Woods Richardson, among others. If they are willing to include MLB-ready sluggers such as José Miranda or Trevor Larnach, it could put them in a position to nab a player that can help them win a playoff series. So who would fit that bill?
Luis Castillo of the Cincinnati Reds (2.92 ERA, 71 IP) and Frankie Montas (3.26 ERA, 1.06 WHIP) immediately come to mind, and both would be excellent additions to the Twins rotation. But they shouldn’t be the only names that fans get attached to. Others that would cost a hefty price but would be an instant boon to the starting staff include Zac Gallen of the Diamondbacks (3.62 ERA, 87 IP) and Blake Snell of the San Diego Padres (4.66 ERA, 11.9 K/9).
Falvey could also attempt to acquire one of his former playoff starters that he helped to develop during his time in Cleveland. Corey Kluber of the Tampa Bay Rays (3.58 ERA, nine career postseason starts) and Mike Clevinger of the Padres (3.79 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) would both be intriguing additions, especially with Falvey’s familiarity. However, they are both currently on contending teams, so it would take a creative package to land them in Minnesota.
The club’s impending decisions at the trade deadline will be quite telling. If they stand pat, fans may disengage with a club that is hanging on the ledge of contention as currently assembled. Should they trade for a reliever or two, they could mess around and make the playoffs for the fourth time in six years. If they get a starting pitcher capable of taking the hill in multiple playoff starts, the club may be ready to push deeper into October. Soon enough, fans will be building expectations based on these moves, or lack thereof. If the Twins have their priorities straight, those expectations should begin to rise come Aug. 3rd.