It's hard to believe considering the state just got dumped on with six inches of snow, but baseball is just around the corner for the Minnesota Twins. With TwinsFest taking part at Target Field next weekend and pitchers and catchers already reporting to Fort Myers on Feb. 11, the charge to take another step forward in 2020 is coming sooner than one would think.
Last week, Twins fans got some good news when they agreed to terms with Josh Donaldson on the largest free-agent contract in franchise history. With the other additions haven't generated much excitement, this year's version of the Twins looks a lot like last years with a pair of extra veterans in the starting rotation.
Even with the roster looking familiar, there's still plenty of reasons for optimism with this team and their chances to repeat as American League Central champions. The challenge now will be to build a team able to sustain an October run and the answers to these early questions could go a long way in making that a reality.
Are the Twins done upgrading their starting rotation?
The question on the tip of everyone's tongue is if the Twins are done trying to reconstruct a starting rotation that fell apart at the end of last season. On paper, the Twins have five starting pitchers on the roster with Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda, Homer Bailey and Rich Hill.
After further analysis, the Twins have just three available arms at the start of the season as Pineda will wrap up his PED policy suspension from last August and Hill recovers from offseason elbow surgery. While the month of April usually calls for four starters anyway, the Twins will still have to find a way to piece together outs until their rotation is at full strength.
Internally, that could mean a spot for Devin Smeltzer, Randy Dobnak, Brusdar Graterol or Lewis Thorpe, but having two members of that foursome in the rotation for two to three months may be a little too close for comfort for Twins fans.
Their alternative would be to hit the trade market before the start of the season, but even those options seem like more of a pipe dream as the season draws closer. Boston's David Price would be a nice addition, but the Twins could look for a younger pitcher with more upside, such as Miami's Sandy Alcantara, whom the Twins were previously linked to when Eddie Rosaro trade rumors were running rampant.
A trade would also provide insurance if Bailey isn't the same pitcher he was in his final eight starts (2.25 ERA) with the Athletics last season, or if Odorizzi reverts to his 2018 form after accepting a one-year qualifying offer.
Could Jose Berrios be in line for an extension?
At this time last year, the Twins were putting the finishing touches on lucrative contract extensions for Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco. Although the deals were questionable when they were signed just before the start of spring training, both contracts look like bargains now after Kepler and Polanco had career seasons as part of the Bomba Squad.
The Twins have already gotten to work attempting to duplicate this feat after signing Miguel Sano to a three-year extension with an option for a fourth season that could bring the total value of the deal to $44 million. With another piece of the Twins core locked up, it's a fair question to wonder who could be next.
One name that should be a logical candidate is Berrios, who has reportedly been contacted by the Twins for an extension in the past but has continued to bet on himself throughout the past couple of seasons. As the Twins inch closer to spring training, the right-hander is the only arbitration-eligible player that hasn't agreed to a deal for 2020.
Berrios didn't finish the season the way he would have liked in 2019 and while the Twins are in no danger of losing him for 2020, they would like to have some long-term security as the cost of free-agent pitching continues to rise. It's more likely that the Twins would agree to a one-year deal, but if they can pull off another multi-year extension, it would be a huge victory for the team.
Will Byron Buxton be ready for the season?
One of the most important players for the Twins last season was Byron Buxton, who had a career season at the plate despite playing in just 87 games. Buxton's impact was felt both offensively and defensively for Minnesota as the Twins compiled a 62-25 record when he played.
"When he played" has been a phrase that has defined Buxton's career so far as he's continued to battle injuries in an effort to stay on the field. His latest injury, a torn shoulder labrum, required season-ending surgery, but it appears that he's making enough progress to be on the field when full-squad workouts begin Feb. 17.
The Star Tribune's Phil Miller reported last week that Buxton is slated to begin swinging as soon as this week. There is no word on when Buxton will try to slam into walls again, but in order to perhaps alter his aggressive style, being on the field to work on it would be a nice start.
Can Miguel Sano adapt to playing first base?
The excitement of the Donaldson signing is still fresh in everyone's mind, but the Twins still have to answer questions about their infield defense even with the upgrade at the hot corner. That's because for the second time in his career, Sano will be making a position change and Minnesota will hope that this one goes better than a prior attempt to turn Sano into a right fielder.
During his press conference to announce his contract extension, Sano declared (via Miller) that he would win a Gold Glove. Sano might've been talking about third base considering the news of Donaldson coming aboard wouldn't come for another couple of hours, but he also revealed that he had been working out at first base in case the Twins needed him to move.
That time has come and in a limited sample size, the results weren't great for Sano at first base, making a pair of errors in just nine games last season. That being said, his UZR in 31 career games throughout his professional career at first base (-1.9) is much better than his career UZR at third base (-8.9).
That will make Sano's transition to first base an interesting thing to watch throughout spring training and to see if he can make the move seamlessly.