My expectations for the Twins at the trade deadline were minimal, particularly for a first-place team that has consistently identified itself as a buyer: Add some bullpen help and a right-handed-hitting outfielder, two easily identifiable roster holes that have become season-long weaknesses after being ignored by the front office during the offseason. Simple, straightforward and attainable.
In the days leading up to the deadline, I wrote about 12 relievers and 12 right-handed hitters the Twins could target, and there were several other options in both categories that would have checked the necessary boxes for improvement. Better yet, because decent middle relievers and platoon outfielders are never a scarce resource, even for bad teams, the price tags figured to be reasonable.
Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey seemed to agree with that assessment a week before the deadline, saying “we want to find ways to upgrade our team” and that they were focused on pursuing “complementary pieces” in those areas of the roster. It was seemingly a reasonable, if low-wattage, deadline approach for a frustratingly mediocre team leading baseball’s worst division.
Yet when Tuesday’s deadline dust settled, the Twins had done literally nothing.
No moves for #MNTwins. Trade deadline has passed.
— DanHayesMLB (@DanHayesMLB) August 1, 2023
Moments after the deadline passed, the Twins announced that setup man Brock Stewart, who posted a 0.70 ERA in 26 first-half innings, had a setback with his elbow injury. Despite that, swapping Jorge López for Dylan Floro last week was the lone move the Twins made to fortify a bullpen that ranks 13th in ERA and 14th in Win Probability Added out of 30 teams and may not get Stewart back.
Young left-handed hitters Edouard Julien, Alex Kirilloff and Matt Wallner have lifted the Twins’ lineup to 11th out of 30 with a .748 OPS against right-handed pitching, but they’re dead last in MLB with a .658 OPS versus left-handers, and an outfield overflowing in lefty bats has been especially inept facing southpaws. Despite that, the Twins did nothing to balance the lineup with a righty bat.
Falvey rationalized the inaction afterward by saying several teams assumed to be sellers ended up changing plans and held onto players the Twins were interested in, shrinking the pool of available options. He further suggested the Twins were hesitant to make a move they didn’t fully believe in because any trade additions would require bumping a player they like from the 26-man roster.
He also repeated what has become a season-long mantra for a team whose best and most expensive veteran hitters — Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton, Joey Gallo, Christian Vázquez, Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco — simply haven’t performed anywhere close to expectations: “We believe in the group in that clubhouse” and “the group in that room needs to perform.”
There’s at least some truth to each of those things, but only so much.
Yes, some anticipated sellers like the Angels, Padres and Cubs shifted gears just before the deadline, pulling potential Twins targets off the market. But despite that, a half-dozen useful right-handed hitters still managed to get traded, with others no doubt available at prices the Twins refused to match. And the reliever market was busy as usual, with more than 10 solid options changing teams.
And yes, making moves just to make moves rarely pays off. But the premise the Twins didn’t have a bullpen spot to spare is absurd when they’ve played musical chairs with relievers. Similarly, the notion that Gallo, an impending free agent hitting .163 in his last 75 games, couldn’t be cast aside for a better fit in a lefty-heavy lineup, simply lacks credibility.
Falvey is absolutely correct about the veterans already in the clubhouse needing to perform to expectations, but believing that and adding lineup help shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, particularly when their lack of right-handed outfield bats was a known issue coming into the season. Beyond that, at some point, the front office needs to look in the same mirror they’re turning toward players.
“It kind of felt like a quieter deadline.”
— Bally Sports North (@BallySportsNOR) August 1, 2023
They assembled this roster, committing $85 million of a $153 million payroll to Correa, Buxton, Gallo, Vázquez, Kepler and Polanco, who have hit a combined .217 with a below-average .704 OPS. They signed Gallo for $11 million after a season in which he batted .160, and with a logjam of lefty bats already in place. They ignored the bullpen all offseason, adding zero major-league relievers.
And when given an opportunity to fix some of their offseason mistakes, and to address season-long roster weaknesses relatively cheaply, they sat on their hands as Falvey suggested there weren’t enough options available to justify pushing any players off the roster. By doing nothing at the deadline, the front office doubled down on the offseason approach that built a mediocre, flawed, lopsided roster.
It might work, too. After all, this is the American League Central, where .500 may hang a banner and three of the five teams aren’t even competing. Whatever you think of the Twins’ empty deadline, the second-place Guardians decided to actively make their current roster worse by trading starting pitcher Aaron Civale for a prospect and shedding designated hitter Josh Bell’s contract.
Perhaps that played a part in the Twins’ inaction. Maybe the front office thinks they can sleepwalk to a division title without any reinforcements, although even then a team that hasn’t won a playoff game in two decades might want to add a complementary player or two to shore up clear weaknesses that can be exposed in October, when they’ll need to get late-inning outs and face lefty pitchers.
Maybe it’s fitting for the AL Central if the deadline moves most likely to help the Twins were made by Cleveland. Whether they want it or not, the Twins or Guardians are going to win this division and host all three games of a best-of-three playoff series against the worst wild-card team. Yet in their slow-footed race to 83 wins, one team did nothing and one team intentionally got worse.
If the Twins don’t win this dreadful division being handed to them on a silver platter, failing to make the playoffs for the third straight year, and being caught from behind for the second season in a row by a veteran-dumping Guardians team with half their payroll, it’ll be impossible not to point the mirror at a front office that decided no help was worth investing in at the deadline.
Sure, the veteran hitters in the Twins’ clubhouse need to step up and produce, but the veteran front office that built this mediocre roster should be held to the same standard in their seventh season at the helm. There’s no excuse for failing to win this division and Twins fans are long past being satiated by yet another winless playoff cameo. Falvey thinks this roster is enough. He better be right.
(Top photo of Thad Levine, left, and Derek Falvey: Jerry Holt / Star Tribune via Getty Images)