That’s what topic manager Rocco Baldelli and president of baseball operations Derek Falvey found themselves answering early and often on Monday’s Opening Day MLBthe annual winter meetings of .
Baldelli’s afternoon press session featured several St. Louis reporters, who peppered him with questions about Gray following the free agent’s recent three-year, $75 million contract with the club. Cardinals.
Baldelli predictably praised Gray and what the Cy Young Award finalist has meant to the Twins over the past two seasons, but he also expressed confidence in the front’s ability office to take the necessary measures to ensure that the rotation remains a team strength in 2024. .
Twins starters led the American League with a 3.82 ERA last season and also ranked fourth out of 30 big league rotations with 895 innings pitched.
“Our rotation was good for us last year,” Baldelli said. “They were very productive, very efficient. Every time we passed the ball to someone, we got a good start, it felt like it. It won’t be the same rotation. But you start to add Chris Paddack in there you start to look Louie Varland. We have guys. And we’re going to stay open-minded and see if we can maybe even enrich the group.
That was the theme of Baldelli and Falvey’s first day. They are happy with the group of starters present, with the arrival of Paddack and Varland. Pablo Lopez, Joe Ryan And Bailey Ober in what could, in theory at least, be a better season-opening rotation than many of the Twins have seen in recent years. But the goal is to add to this group, and with a quality starter rather than just an innings eater in the background.
Doing so via free agency was always unlikely, even before the announcement that the Twins plan to reduce their payroll in 2024. After all, the biggest contract the Falvey-led front office has ever handed out to a free agent pitcher is a two-year, $20 million deal with Michael Pineda. Given their self-imposed salary caps, it’s simply unlikely the Twins will have the financial firepower to land a mid-rotation starter in free agency, let alone a front-line replacement for Gray.
But this is nothing new, and the Twins under Falvey have always preferred to build the front of their rotations via trades. That’s how they acquired Gray in March 2022 and Maeda in February 2020. That’s also how they acquired López last offseason in a controversial but ultimately shrewd trade with the Miami Marlins For Luis Arraez.
“You never want to lose good players,” Baldelli said. “But you have to constantly look for ways to improve. We’ve done it over the last five years since I’ve been here. We’re going to have to continue to do it. We will have to be aggressive when opportunities present themselves to us. You don’t know when these opportunities are going to present themselves.
Tyler Glasnow, Corbin Burnes, Dylan Cease, Shane Bieber And Logan Gilbert are among the front-line starters who would be available in the trade, and there are countless other quality starters – like López last season – who will be available at the right price even if they are not widely known to be on the roster. trading bloc.
Falvey suggested Monday that the Twins might have to let the free agent market play out a bit more before league-wide trade activity resumes. Once some of the biggest free agent hitters are off the board, it makes sense that teams could turn their attention to the Twins trade pieces.
“We’ve always been a team that waits for a portion of the market and waits to see how things develop to a certain extent,” Falvey said. “The team is not formed at the end of the Winter Meetings. This has never been a key marker for me personally or for us in general. Our approach is fundamentally the same. Our approach and how we think about how to find matches within our team.
“There has been a lot of interest in a number of different players on our team,” Falvey said. “We are still trying to understand the landscape around free agents, trade partners and others. I think we are still in this first phase of feeling. It feels weird to say that in December, but it’s like that now.”
Re-signing Gray, 34, to a three-year, $75 million contract would never have been in the Twins’ plans, regardless of the salary situation. They traded their 2021 first-round pick Chase Petty for Gray in 2022, had two very good seasons and will receive a first-round pick as compensation for losing Gray via free agency. This has always been the Twins’ plan.
According to multiple team sources, the Twins were interested in re-signing Maeda to a one-year deal, but his market quickly grew to the point where he landed a two-year, $24 million contract. with the Twins. Detroit Tigers. Although the $12 million annual salary was reasonable for a pitcher of Maeda’s caliber, the Twins were hesitant to make a multi-year commitment to a 36-year-old who only logged 104 innings in his first season. season after Tommy John surgery.
This all makes sense, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Twins have two big holes in the rotation after Gray and Maeda combined to make 52 starts with a 3.31 ERA in 288 1/3 innings on the season. last.
Paddack will fill one of those rotation spots when he returns from Tommy John surgery, and the Twins are optimistic that he can be at least as effective as Maeda. But replacing Gray will be much more difficult, and their attempts to do so could ultimately define the Twins’ offseason.
Varland is designated as the No. 5 starter, essentially by default. He’s fully capable of filling that role after posting a 4.83 ERA in his first 15 starts for the Twins and looking even better in a bullpen role late in the season. But just like they did with Ober last season, the Twins would probably prefer Varland start 2024 as the No. 6 starter.
Doing so will first require making a significant addition to the rotation, likely via trade.
(Photo by Sonny Gray: Jesse Johnson / USA Today)