FOX Sports MLB Analyst
The most weird, tumultuous free-agent saga in MLB historical past is over: Carlos Correa is a Minnesota Twin.
A most windy highway, one which took the baseball world from Minneapolis to San Francisco to a seaside in Hawaii to Queens ended up again proper the place it began. At his introductory press convention Wednesday afternoon, Correa placed on a spiffy new Twins jersey at Target Field and smiled for the cameras. Mets proprietor Steve Cohen was on no person’s thoughts. Another lovely day in paradise.
Considering that headline-grabbing ankle value him round $150 million over the previous month, Wednesday was a comparatively upbeat end result of Correa’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Free-Agent Experience.
But as one story ends, one other begins. Free company is the second-most essential baseball season; the true one occurs throughout the summer season. Sure, Minnesota gained the Correa “sweepstakes,” however will they win the precise baseball video games? How good are the Twins?
Correa is returning to a staff that went 78-84 with him on the roster only a season in the past. Is there sufficient else right here to make them an excellent baseball staff? Or, contemplating the flimsy AL Central, is there sufficient right here to make them an excellent sufficient baseball staff?
To perceive the long run we should first perceive the previous.
Minnesota rolled into final season with a elaborate new shortstop, excessive hopes and an opportunity to problem for a playoff spot. The rotation, past veteran Sonny Gray and rookie Joe Ryan seemed a tad precarious, however a lineup with Correa, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler promised actual thump, perhaps even sufficient to win the division. Instead, the Twins went 78-84. What went so unsuitable?
It actually wasn’t the offense, which posted a powerful 107 WRC+, one level higher than the NL champion Phillies. Unfortunately, Minnesota’s beginning pitching turned out to be simply as shallow and mediocre as everybody anticipated.
Ryan and Gray have been good of their 51 mixed begins, as was Bailey Ober in his 11 earlier than he obtained damage, however the different 100 begins have been a disaster. The eleven non Ryan/Gray/Ober starters mixed for a 4.69 ERA, which might have been tied for fifth-worst in baseball. Neither Dylan Bundy nor Chris Archer, Minnesota’s two veteran pitching lottery tickets final winter, rediscovered the glint, whereas in-house choices Devin Smeltzer and Josh Winder underwhelmed.
And so even within the paper-mache AL Central, the Twins spent October on trip.
Given their struggles on the bump in 2022, the Twins have been anticipated to be lively in free company. And whereas they made a valiant run at Carlos Rodón, the membership hasn’t signed a single pitcher to a brand new MLB deal as of Thursday afternoon.
Instead, Minnesota is at present relying closely on two arms who missed important time final yr with accidents: Kenta Maeda and Tyler Mahle.
Mahle was acquired from Cincinnati ultimately yr’s deadline, however made simply 4 begins for the Twins earlier than a shoulder difficulty sidelined him for the ultimate six weeks of the season. If he comes again at full energy, he’s a stable if unspectacular mid-rotation arm who ought to present dependable above-average innings, one thing Minnesota was desperately lacking.
Maeda is the true wild card right here. After lacking all of 2022 recovering from Tommy John surgical procedure, the Japanese right-hander is a full go for 2023. The final time he was totally wholesome, throughout the shortened 2020 season, Maeda completely dominated, posting a 2.70 ERA en path to a second-place Cy Young end. At 34, there’s authentic skepticism about how nicely he’ll bounce again from TJ, however his return may present the Twins with one thing resembling a frontline starter.
Expect an Opening Day rotation of Maeda, Mahle, Gray, Ryan and Ober. After that, it drops off rapidly. And whereas this group doesn’t have to dominate for Minnesota to skate by means of a weak division, it must be more healthy than it was final yr.
Meanwhile, the bullpen seems extraordinarily risky. Jhoan Duran is a top-10 reliever on this planet, the brand new “hardest thrower in baseball,” the kind of late-inning arm that makes a distinction when the climate will get chilly. The different high-leverage choices — Griffin Jax, Jorge López and Caleb Thielbar — look extra inclined to the traditional fluctuations of bullpen randomness. Predicting relievers is like catching the solar with a web.
So whereas the addition of Christian Vázquez behind the plate ought to assist all the pitching employees, this group doesn’t look considerably improved in comparison with final season.
Offensively, a ton went proper for the Twins a yr in the past. Luis Arráez gained the batting title, blossoming into probably the greatest contact hitters on earth. Buxton was magnificent when wholesome, probably the most impactful he’s ever been on the plate. Correa and his 140 OPS+ was precisely what they paid for. Unproven kids José Miranda and Nick Gordon performed higher than anybody may have imagined.
Sure, not every little thing will break like that once more, however the lineup has sufficient in it to mission one other top-10 efficiency in baseball. This shouldn’t be the Bomba Squad of 2019 that broke the file for probably the most homers in a season, nevertheless it’ll plate runs at a dependable fee.
Without Correa, this felt like a roster and a corporation with out an attainable short-term imaginative and prescient. With him, the Twins are again in playoff competition, even when his return doesn’t elevate them to the highest of the American League. They are in a tier squarely under the Astros, Yankees and Blue Jays, within the unidentifiable muck of the AL’s hazy center. But the 2022 Phillies unveiled a tantalizing blueprint for groups just like the Twins: sneak your approach in, hope the pitching stays collectively and pray your bats get scorching. And when your largest division rivals are the pool-noodle-slugging Guardians and the roller-coaster White Sox, that plan has legs.
It’s actually all about Maeda. If he may be the 2020 model of himself, Minnesota has a soul-snatching Game 1 starter. If he doesn’t bounce again, it is a staff missing a dominant frontline arm. That’s usually a damning gap.
Can these Twins make the playoffs? Absolutely. Are they higher than final yr? Probably, however provided that they keep wholesome. Can they win the World Series? Unless Joe Ryan turns into Nolan Ryan, no, don’t wager your life financial savings on it.
Maybe they’ll get Correa to pitch?
Jake Mintz, the louder half of @CespedesBBQ is a baseball author for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan residing in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s virtually actually using his bike. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Mintz.
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