The Detroit Tigers took a big step forward in 2021, finishing third in the AL Central, and winning 70+ games for the first time since 2016. Most of our off-season content here at MCB will focus on what the Tigers are doing to get better, or what we think they can do to get better.
But baseball doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The White Sox and Cleveland won more games than Detroit this year, and the Royals and Twins both finished within four games of the Tigers. The AL Central appears to be Chicago’s to lose, but right now it looks there will be five teams eager to compete next year.
Tigers fans seem unusually unified in their desires for the off-season and 2022: sign Carlos Correa (or another elite shortstop), grab a veteran starting pitcher or two (maybe Justin Verlander), find a catcher somewhere, bring up Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson, and definitely don’t trade Casey Mize.
That does seem like a great way for the Tigers to become a real contender, but the other four clubs in the AL Central aren’t going to just stand pat. So, let’s look at their rosters and see if we can project their plans for 2022. We’ll start with a quick look back at the standings from this year:
The White Sox ran away with the AL Central, and they appear poised to control the division for the next few seasons. But let’s begin on the opposite side of the standings, with the Minnesota Twins.
AL Central Off-Season Preview: Minnesota Twins
Season Recap: There may not have been a more disappointing team in baseball this year than the Minnesota Twins. PECOTA projections gave Minnesota a 61% chance to win the division, and suggested they would win 91 games. The Twins got off to a decent 5-2 start, but then lost 13 of their next 15 games, and they never really recovered. Minnesota’s offense had some key injuries, and free-agent shortstop Andrelton Simmons was one of the worst players in baseball, but their bats still ended up producing a sold season, with a top-10 wRC+ (101) and the 2nd most home runs (228) in the AL.
It was pitching that ruined Minnesota’s season. Their starting rotation finished the year with a 5.18 ERA, and their two main off-season additions, J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker, combined for a 6.95 ERA over 30 starts. The Twins were aggressive sellers at the deadline, sending Happ to the Cardinals, reliever Hansel Robles to Boston, slugger Nelson Cruz to Tampa, and José Berríos to Toronto. Minnesota landed some nice prospects in return, and they still have talent, so they appear to be reorganizing rather than rebuilding.
Key Departures: Right-handed starter Michael Pineda is the only real loss here, though Simmons is also leaving. It will be interesting to see if Minnesota seeks to trade some of their veterans, like Josh Donaldson, Max Kepler, Kenta Maeda, and Miguel Sanó, or if they look to move any 2023 free agents. Left-handed pitcher Taylor Rogers has been one of the best relievers in baseball over the past four seasons, while center fielder Byron Buxton is spectacularly talented, but seemingly incapable of staying healthy. Buxton turned down an extension, so he could be on the move soon.
Young Talent: Starter Bailey Ober (12th round, 2017) was quietly one of the more consistent rookie pitchers in the America League last year, and trade acquisition Joe Ryan looked very impressive in limited duty. Minnesota has a pair of talented young corner bats in Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach, and 23-year-old infielder Jose Miranda hit .344 with 30 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A this season. The Twins may also get contributions from 2017 first overall pick Royce Lewis, or OF Austin Martin and RHP Simeon Woods-Richardson, who both came over in the Berrios deal.
Needs: SP, RP, 2B/SS
Minnesota’s needs could change quite a bit if they trade more of their veterans, but right now they appear to have decent in-house options on offense. The Twins had the second highest payroll in the AL Central this season, and if they want to stay in that general range (roughly $140 million) they can spend about $35 million this off-season.
The Twins tend to play in the shallow end of the free agency pool, particularly when it comes to pitching, so it seems unlikely they will target one of the top starters. But, they seem like a strong fit for pitchers like Alex Wood, Anthony DeSclafani, or Steven Matz. The Detroit Tigers may be looking at the same group of arms, so things could get interesting.
From the outside it seems like Minnesota’s best path back to contention is to add a pair of mid-tier starters, but, if the Twins add one lower-tier starter and a solid reliever, like Brad Boxberger, they could theoretically still go after one of the big free-agent shortstops. Carlos Correa and Corey Seager are probably off limits, but Javier Báez, Marcus Semien, and Trevor Story could be possibilities.
The Minnesota Twins had a terrible year, but they aren’t in bad shape as an organization. With a few solid signings and healthy, productive seasons from their young players, they could easily make a run for the Wild Card in 2022.