As the Twins pick through the wreckage of their season, it’ll be easy to figure out where it all went wrong. Counting on Byron Buxton to stay upright more than seven minutes, and a bullpen that is the new music video for Prodigy’s “Firestarter.” (I realize both Prodigy and music videos as a whole are an anachronism, but I’m giving up trying to appeal to people whom those things are an anachronism for. I’m just too tired). And yet as the Twins play out the string, there seems to be just a little too much smoke, and a little too much excitement for lack of a better term, about them possibly moving José Berríos.
To be fair, reportedly the asking price for Berríos is astronomical, and you always pick up the phone just to see how unhinged and desperate the GM on the other end of the line might be. But when the Twins really focus on how they got here, dead-ass last in the AL Central when they were expected to run with the White Sox all season, their conclusion should be right in the mirror.
Perhaps a big reason the Twins bullpen has been such a disaster is that they only have one starter they can count on. While Berríos is averaging just over six innings per start, none of the other pitchers to make 10 or more starts for the Twins are coming anywhere close to six innings per outing. The Twins saw the Sox trade for Lancy Lynn in the offseason, and still thought they could manage with aging Kenta Maeda or Michael Pineda, even though Maeda had a 4.00 ERA in his last 162-game season and Pineda is now four years removed from throwing more than 150 innings.
The Twins were clearly screaming out for another starter. While the free agent market for starters was extremely bare, especially after Marcus Stroman and Kevin Guasmann excepted qualifying offers, pitchers like Lynn or Yu Darvish were available via trade (though to be fair to the Twins, the Cubs didn’t seem to discuss Darvish with anyone other than the Padres in another bit of Clark St. geniusness).
Same goes for the pen, where the Twins left it up to chance that pitchers that had done well in the “should-be-ignored-for-evaluation-purposes” 2020 season would just carry on in 2021, with the modest addition of Alex Colomé. Colomé had always danced through the rain drops with the White Sox as he never struck out enough hitters for a dominant late-inning reliever, and a reckoning was always just around the corner. Sprinkle in an injury here or there and this is what you get.
It’s hard to also legislate for an entire outfield getting hurt, along with the first option in Alex Kiriloff, and that might have always brought the Twins offense from fireworks factory to mediocre no matter what they’re offseason plans were.
And yet it can’t help but look that with the holes glaring, the Twins front office and ownership were still at best just “mostly” in on this season. Which it feels like most teams except for a few are now. They’ll happily accept winning and contention if it comes to them without working (i.e. spending) all that hard, but are only too happy to pull the rip cord if it doesn’t so they can set the clock back on paying their best players a few more years. Berríos would be due a huge payday after 2022 when he escapes arbitration hell. Buxton could be as well if he could ever put 140 games together, though his case is much more complicated. Even more so after he turned down an extension.
Should the Twins sell Berríos, it’ll be taking the easy road that far too many teams opt for. Sure, they may get a haul, but what are the guarantees of getting another Berríos? His fWAR and ERA both rank top-10 in the AL. He’s a genuine ace, and those don’t grow on trees. Trading him puts a team on a search to just find another version of him, and there’s no guarantee that journey ever comes to a conclusion. Fuck, the Angels have been looking for a staff ace for 87 years.
Even for teams that we think are contenders, the sad truth is that a good portion of them have kept their options open, and are only too eager to get back to a place where serious contracts are still years away. They might argue that a $120-130 million payroll is the max they can do given their market and the pandemic, but like all teams trying to tell you that it’s almost certainly horseshit. Even one starter and maybe one or two relievers for another $25 million would have made a difference to this season. They hoped going without would see them still contend. It doesn’t sound like they’re all that upset that it didn’t. So it goes.