The calendar hasn’t even reached June yet and the who-stays-and-who-goes speculation already has begun for the belly-flopping Twins.
This is the price for being one of the worst teams in baseball. People start to wonder when the team will become sellers and which players might be on the trade block.
A national media member this week floated starting pitcher Jose Berrios’ name as possible trade bait. More of these reports will inevitably surface in the absence of a significant course correction.
The Twins believe they are better than what they have put on the field and due for a hot streak. Well, here’s their opportunity. Thirteen consecutive games against two sub-.500 teams, Baltimore and Kansas City, starting Monday.
If nothing changes, the Twins front office will be left with two choices: Unload veterans who might have value to contenders later this summer, or keep believing that this nightmare is nothing more than an apocalyptic anomaly that requires patience in their roster management.
The problem with Door No. 2 is that it hinges on trust. Trust that underperforming players can overcome individual struggles and prove to be viable options moving forward. This marks a strange starting point for discussion since the Twins are supposedly operating in win-now mode.
Losing with a largely unproven nucleus of prospects is tolerable, even understandable. The makeup of this Twins team is something different. Only one player in the Opening Day lineup is younger than 27. Watching this many players who are in their career prime flounder makes you question the overall direction.
A losing season to this degree muddies the picture, changes perceptions. Professional sports teams construct rosters around their core pieces, players viewed as a foundation, both in the present and future.
It’s hard to even know which players represent the Twins’ core anymore.
That answer was easy way back in 2019. Coming off 101 wins, the core appeared deep and promising. Berrios, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Luis Arraez, Mitch Garver, Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, Trevor May.
And now? The enthusiasm has dimmed significantly on a number of those seemingly core pieces.
Buxton showed the first month that he’s capable of being one of the most dynamic players in baseball when healthy, but injuries continue to disrupt his career. Kepler and Polanco have slumped since the start of 2020. Garver is still trying recapture his 2019 breakout form. Sano is 28 and fluctuates between brief power streaks and prolonged slumps. Rogers and Duffey have not been as dominant as their previous versions. May and Rosario are gone.
Glance ahead two seasons, to 2023. How many current players would you bet the mortgage on still being key fixtures in the lineup? Arraez, Buxton (assuming he’s healthy), Josh Donaldson, Alex Kirilloff and who else? Some might argue Polanco and Kepler, but their drop-off is concerning.
And which pitchers would be considered locks in the future core? Berrios, Rogers and who else?
Management likely views its core differently than media and fans, but this suddenly feels like a weird intersection for the organization. The team is not contending, but the roster has too many veterans to be rebuilding.
The next few weeks will be critical in determining how the organization proceeds.
General Manager Thad Levine told reporters recently that, though disappointed with the team’s struggles, the front office has not entertained the notion of becoming sellers.
“I just don’t think we’re there yet,” he said.
Barring a dramatic turnaround, a time for that decision will come soon enough. And a front office that played a large role in creating a mess will need to formulate a plan for how to clean it up.
That process involves identifying players who will serve as building blocks. The results from the first two months have made that question more difficult to answer with full confidence.