Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Newsletter Excerpt, November 29, 2023 -- "AL Central Notes"


This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider.

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Minnesota Twins

Speaking of projected innings, the Twins have watched two starters from their fantastic 2023 rotation leave. Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda made about a third of the starts and threw about a third of the innings for a top-five rotation last year, a rotation that was the biggest reason the Twins won the AL Central. There’s no simple way to patch that, and while internal depth will be called upon -- maybe late-season story Chris Paddack, maybe fast-rising righty David Festa, maybe forever prospect Simeon Woods Richardson -- the Twins will have to backfill from outside the organization. 

The model is already there. The Twins made one of the best baseball trades in recent memory a year ago, sending Luis Arraez to the Marlins for Pablo Lopez and a couple of prospects. The trade gave both teams what they needed, as both players played at the top of their ranges. It was as win-win a deal as you’ll ever see, and that should be an asset for Thad Levine’s front office. You want to be able to go into the market as the guy who doesn’t toss you a hot potato, but rather gives value to get value.

Arraez-for-Lopez is hard to repeat. One advantage the Twins have is a deep trade market for starting pitching. A lot of teams that are expected to go into rebuilding cycles, or are just trying to get out from under high salaries, have #2 and even #1 starters for trade. Now, most of them are rentals, unlike Lopez, but the Twins have the best roster in this division right now and may have to accept a short-term solution. 

The Twins have plenty of position players to deal, especially if they need to keep DH at least partially open for Byron Buxton. Buxton didn’t play a single inning of defense in 2023, and while the Twins are planning for him to be back in center in ’24, any plans predicated on a healthy Buxton can be considered tentative. That creates playing time pressure on Alex Kirilloff and Matt Wallner and Trevor Larnach. Top prospect Brooks Lee is pushing up into a crowded infield, and Emmanuel Rodriguez (.400 OBP as a 20-year-old in high A) into a crowded outfield. You could go back to the same well; Eduardo Julien is a good left-handed hitter and a middling defensive second baseman, just like Arraez was. With Jorge Polanco still around and Royce Lewis seemingly ready to lock up third base for the next five years, Julien is a strong trade chip.

The Twins can repeat as AL Central champions. To do so, they may have to make the same kind of trade they did to win it in 2023.