The Minnesota Twins just didn’t have enough to get past the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game, but that doesn’t mean they should enter the 2018 season with their tails between their legs.
This team has a lot going for it and the youthful core that exists is strong enough to bring Minnesota right back to the postseason next year. An AL Central crown is a possibility despite a strong Cleveland Indians team ruling the divisional roost for now, but even another shot at the AL Wild Card could be enough for the Twins to assert themselves as the new young playoff contender in the league.
So long as the following steps are taken, Minnesota can look forward to getting to the ALDS in 2018.
1 The Dozier decision
Dozier slugged 34 home runs and had 93 RBI as the Twins' leadoff man in 2017, and next year marks the final year of his contract before he'll hit free agency. The former All-Star will earn $9m next year and if the Twins really want to improve next year, management will decide what to do with him.
Dozier is good enough a player that Minnesota could trade him to another team for top talent rather than just settle for a compensatory draft pick if he leaves in free agency, but it's hard to justify dealing someone with 30 home run power. That said, GM Thad Levine has to decide what to do with his star player before he becomes a potential distraction.
If Dozier stays, great. If he's traded, the Twins are talented enough to win without him despite his ability to put up 4-WAR seasons. Either way, a decision needs to be made on his future in Minnesota, and soon.
2 In Buxton we trust!
Buxton finally had his breakout year after two years of slumping and set career highs in every offensive category. He only hit .253 in 140 games, but Buxton also added 16 home runs, 51 RBI and even 29 steals en route to posting a 4.1 WAR.
He will turn 24 in December and the best thing the Twins can do with Buxton, especially now he seems to have found his niche in the middle third of the batting order, is to just continue being patient with him as they were during his early struggles. This young man can be a true five-tool player even if it's taking him some time to reach the levels fans expected after he was drafted second overall in 2012 behind Carlos Correa.
So long as management just keeps letting him accumulate innings and at-bats, the results will prove fruitful. The Twins' future is bright and Buxton will be a big part of it.
3 Invest in the bullpen
The main reason that the Yankees could beat the Twins last night is that Minnesota's bullpen wasn't as strong as New York's. It's just a fact. The Twins were without veteran Glen Perkins once again this year and it would be shocking if his $6.5m option was picked up for next year when he'll be 35 years old.
This means that in order to even have a shot at sniffing an AL Central crown, let alone getting back to the AL Wild Card Game, Thad Levine needs to add a top relief arm. Minnesota doesn't have a lot of money to spend and most of payroll is tied up in Joe Mauer's albatross of a contract, but a number of top relief pitchers will be available on the open market this offseason.
One possibility is for veteran Pat Neshek to return to the team that helped make him a household name. The same can be said for lefty Francisco Liriano, who threw a no-hitter for the Twins in 2011. Addison Reed and Wade Davis will also be on the market.
No matter who the Twins court to boost their bullpen, there's no denying that it's an area that needs attention. By adding just one established veteran arm to help lead the youngsters, the team's odds of making the 2018 ALDS will improve.
4 Invest in another starter
Ervin Santana has done a great job in two years with Minnesota and Jose Berrios is definitely an ace in the making, but the Twins still relied heavily on their offense to get to the postseason this year and ranked just 19th in baseball with a staff ERA of 4.59.
This means that on top of adding a bullpen arm, Levine must also consider adding a reliable starter. The arms behind Santana and Berrios just can't carry a playoff-caliber team.
That said, though Levine should not by any means break the bank to add an arm, pursuing mid-tier free agent starters like Jason Vargas, Andrew Cashner, or Lance Lynn could make enough of a difference for the team's pitching staff. Adding just one of those players would provide Minnesota with three arms that manager Paul Molitor can rely on to turn in good starts whenever they take the mound.
If prospects like Stephen Gonsalves or Fernando Romero are ready to join the back end of the rotation following Spring Training, all the better.
5 Believe in the core
The Twins made the AL Wild Card Game on the back of a young core that performed well at the plate, so well that Minnesota ranked seventh in baseball with 815 runs scored. There is no reason to believe the offense will take a step back in 2018, so the best thing management can do regarding the lineup in the offseason is to leave it alone.
Seriously, there is no reason to tinker with this Twins lineup. Joe Mauer finally found his stroke again and hit over .300 for the first time since 2013 and also drove in over 70 runs for the first time since 2012. Eddie Rosario is an underrated lefty bat and Jorge Polanco will help make the Twins' lineup even more powerful as will a healthy Miguel Sano. Byron Buxton, as was mentioned before, will only continue to improve as a player.
The Minnesota title contender built around youth is almost fully built. To take it apart just a little would be a huge mistake and dash any potential playoff hopes for the future.
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