The Twins lost a trio of starters in free agency, as Sonny Gray signed with the Cardinals, Kenta Maeda signed with the division-rival Tigers, and Tyler Mahle signed with the World Series-champion Rangers. The acquisition of Anthony DeSclafani helps to replenish some depth, but they’re still poking around the market for further starting pitching help.
Both Bobby Nightengale of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Jon Morosi of MLB Network (video link) have suggested recently that Minnesota could make some further additions before long. The Twins, who’ve scaled back payroll while spending much of the offseason facing questions about their television broadcast rights, aren’t likely to sign Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery. The Twins reportedly had interest in Michael Lorenzen prior to adding DeSclafani, and Morosi suggests that pitchers like Lorenzen and Noah Syndergaard are in the general price range the Twins are actively considering.
As things stand, the Twins still have a solid group of starters, though the depth isn’t as strong heading into 2024 as it appeared to be in 2023. Pablo Lopez had the third-most strikeouts in all of baseball last season while finishing ninth innings pitched and logging a 3.66 ERA. He’ll lead the staff, followed by righties Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober. The former carried a sub-3.00 ERA with outstanding K/BB marks through his first 15 starts before fading down the stretch. He’ll look for a stronger finish to the 2024 season but has nonetheless cemented himself as a useful big league starter. The latter touts a 3.37 ERA, 24.5% strikeout rate and 5% walk rate in 200 1/3 frames dating back to 2022.
Beyond that trio, the Twins are hoping to get a full season’s worth of starts from righty Chris Paddack, who returned from Tommy John surgery late in 2023 and pitched well out of the bullpen. The former Padre allowed three runs in 8 2/3 innings between the regular season and postseason, turning in an electric 14-to-1 K/BB ratio in that time (41.8% strikeout rate, 2.9% walk rate). However, the 28-year-old has just 40 2/3 innings total since 2022 (minors and postseason included), and he’s only reached 100 innings in two MLB seasons. Counting on him for 30 starts seems wildly optimistic.
The veteran DeSclafani and 26-year-old right-hander Louie Varland will vie for the final starting job. DeSclafani, 34, has battled injuries over the past two seasons and pitched poorly when on the field, but he gave the Giants 31 starts of 3.17 ERA ball as recently as 2021. The Twins are only on the hook for $4MM of this season’s $12MM salary, with the Giants paying $6MM and the Mariners kicking in $2MM as part of the Jorge Polanco trade with the Mariners that also brought reliever Justin Topa and top prospect Gabriel Gonzalez to Minnesota. Varland has pitched 94 innings of 4.40 ERA ball in the big leagues. He was immensely homer-prone in 2023 (2.12 HR/9), but he boasts strong strikeout, walk and ground-ball rates, leading metrics like SIERA and xFIP (which normalize home-run rate) to peg his 2023 performance at solid marks of 3.77 and 3.81.
It’s a fine top six, but the departure of Maeda and particularly Gray, who finished second in AL Cy Young voting this past season, still loom large. The Twins will surely be banking on more consistency from Ryan and more innings from Paddack, but there’s no getting around the fact that the group looks weaker than it did in 2023 — particularly late in the season, when Gray and Maeda were both pitching quite well.
Barring some type of surprising trade, it doesn’t seem likely that the Twins will find a way to replace the quality of Gray’s innings. Free agents Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery are still out there, but the Twins have been cutting payroll due to their murky television situation. Minnesota formally announced a one-year extension of their deal with Diamond Sports Group/Bally Sports today, though presumably at a lesser rate than they received in 2023. The outlook beyond that point remains unclear, too. A major splash for Snell or Montgomery would come as a shock.
Deepening the group by bringing in someone like Lorenzen probably wouldn’t give the Twins the same type of Game 1 or 2 playoff starter they had in Gray, but springing for quantity has some merit as well. Even adding 150 or so league-average innings would help to safeguard against injury concerns among the current group (Paddack and DeSclafani, most notably), push DeSclafani to a long-relief role to open the season and push Varland to Triple-A, where he could work out of the rotation and be summoned as injuries dictate. Roster Resource currently projects a $123.5MM payroll for the Twins — more than $30MM shy of last year’s season-end mark but in the general $125-140MM vicinity they were reportedly targeting for the upcoming season.