Over the past two seasons, the Minnesota Twins have successfully put together a patchwork rotation. While the results haven't always been pretty, their system that relies on finding value has led the Twins to back-to-back American League Central titles for the first time since the early 2000s.
The division championship banners are a nice touch underneath the scoreboard at Target Field, but the Twins' goals should be much higher in 2021. That includes building a rotation that can help end the longest postseason losing streak in the history of North American sports.
As it stands, the Twins have a rotation that has a couple of strong starters at the top. Kenta Maeda (6-1, 2.70 ERA) finished second in Cy Young Award voting last season and Michael Pineda (2-0, 3.38 ERA) looked strong after returning from a suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drugs policy.
After that, things start to get murky. Jose Berrios (5-4, 4.00 ERA) hasn't taken the next step to becoming a top-of-the-rotation starter and even with the addition of J.A. Happ (2-2, 3.47 ERA) the Twins still have an unclear answer of who will be their No. 5 starter.
According to FanGraphs' 2021 depth chart, the frontrunner for the job is Randy Dobnak (6-4, 4.05 ERA). Dobnak started out strong for the Twins last year but fell apart late and was optioned to the team's taxi squad.
There's also a chance the Twins could turn to a prospect such as Jhoan Duran, but he has yet to throw an inning above Double-A coming into this season.
This all enhances the need to acquire a pitcher before the team reports to spring training. While several options have gone off the free-agent market there are still plenty of interesting names that could solidify the group.
The biggest name out there is Trevor Bauer, who has yet to sign after last year's Cy Young campaign for the Cincinnati Reds. The addition of Bauer (5-4, 1.73 ERA) would add instant credibility and a true ace to the top of the rotation for the first time since Johan Santana was toeing the rubber at the Metrodome.
However, adding Bauer doesn't appear to be likely. The left-hander has softened on his stance to seek one-year deals and the Twins have been reluctant to give out big contracts to free-agent pitchers. Thus, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic stated the Twins are no longer in the running to acquire Bauer.
The next step would be to add an old friend to the mix as Jake Odorizzi is still on the market. While the right-hander's 2020 season (0-1, 6.59 ERA) was a disaster as he battled injury, the Twins could still bank on his 2019 performance (15-7, 3.51 ERA) and sign him to a cheaper deal than the $18.7 million qualifying offer he played on last season.
If the Twins aren't able to bring Odorizzi back, another name in the rumor mill is James Paxton. Much like Odorizzi, Paxton also struggled with injury in 2020. When he's on, however, he can also be a viable starter, going 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA and even starting Game 1 against the Twins in the 2019 ALDS.
While those names are among the high-end targets, the Twins could also roll the dice on another Wes Johnson reclamation project. A name to consider is Mike Foltynewicz, who in 2018 won 13 games and finished eighth in the National League Cy Young Award voting.
Foltynewicz has had issues since then and struggled through 2019 before getting designated for assignment after one start in 2020. The main culprit has been the loss of velocity on his fastball, which has dipped from 96.8 MPH in 2018 to 91.4 last season, per FanGraphs. With no known injury, the analytics-friendly coaching staff from the Twins could help the 29-year-old rebound.
A lot of the targets mentioned are players that could come at a reasonable price (outside of Bauer) and help upgrade the back of the rotation. With the added possibility of the Twins making a trade similar to the one that brought Maeda to Minnesota last spring, there should be one more arm added to the rotation before they get to spring training.