A big reason for the Minnesota Twins' downfall has been their pitching staff. With the Twins focused on finding cheap, controllable arms as opposed to big-ticket free agents, the Twins' rotation has struggled for the past couple years and reached a breaking point in 2021.
If they expect to turn around in 2022, improving the starting pitching will be a top priority. Fortunately for them, they'll have several options to choose from.
Maeda's season has been a disappointment after he finished second in voting for the American League Cy Young Award in 2020. Maeda's overall stats (6-4, 4.41 ERA) don't look impressive but his recent performance may have given him a spot for next season.
In his first 12 starts, Maeda was 3-3 with a 5.56 ERA while battling a groin injury. While Maeda had a couple of rough starts upon his return, he has pitched much better as of late, going 3-1 with a 2.98 ERA while holding hitters to a .210 average in his last seven games.
If Maeda can pitch somewhere in the middle of those extremes, the Twins have a reliable starting pitcher. With Maeda signed through 2023 and owed $3.125 per season, he's a bargain that should be a lock to stick with the Twins next year.
Ober came up as an unknown this season and struggled out of the gate. In his first six starts, the 25-year-old had a 5.84 ERA but has settled down to post a 3.55 ERA and pick up his first career win in his past seven starts.
Ober shouldn't be the Twins' second-best starter but he does things that Twins starters have failed to do this season. Ober has allowed just 10 walks over his past 33 innings and has held hitters to a .244 average at the plate.
While Griffin Jax and Randy Dobnak are other internal candidates for the rotation, Ober seems to be the most consistent. That could give Ober the inside track to start next season.
The Twins acquired a pair of starting pitchers in the Nelson Cruz trade and it wouldn't be shocking if we saw Ryan and Drew Strotman pitch in September. Even though both could reach the majors, Ryan should have a clearer path thanks to his control.
In 57 innings at Triple-A Durham, Ryan posted just 1.6 walks per nine innings and 3.63 ERA. While Ryan has been able to stay in the strike zone, he's also been able to miss bats, logging 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings this season.
Ryan should make his debut in the Twins organization soon after pitching for Team USA in the 2020 Olympics but it shouldn't take long for him to make an impact with his new team.
One free-agent signing
The rest of the rotation could include some arms from the minor leagues, but prospects like Josh Winder, Jhoan Duran and Jordan Balazovic could be at least one year from making their major league debut.
This would lead the Twins back to the free-agent market where they have been focused on hunting for value. If the Twins want to continue this route, a name to keep in mind is Charlie Morton.
Although he'll turn 38 in November, Morton has remained an effective pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, going 11-4 with a 3.49 ERA. This type of signing has been common during the Derek Falvey/Thad Levine regime and could command a one-year deal somewhere around $15 million.
The Twins could also add a former division foe in Danny Duffy. The left-hander went 4-3 with a 2.51 ERA for the Kansas City Royals but was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline. With Duffy a SoCal native, he may elect to stay with the Dodgers but could be another target.
Other names to watch include Jon Gray, Robbie Ray or even a one-year reunion with Michael Pineda. Either way, the Twins will likely have to bring a pitcher in to field better results.
One pitcher acquired via trade
Here's where things get interesting. The Twins have plenty of offense but no pitching. In order to swing things back in favor of the rotation, the Twins could offer up one of their young bats in order to acquire a controllable talent.
One area to keep an eye on is at catcher where Mitch Garver and Ryan Jeffers are currently splitting time. Both players seem to play better when they're in the lineup every day and could entice a team looking to get younger and cheaper behind the plate.
The Twins could also acquire an arm through several players on team-friendly deals. Miguel Sanó may have struggled too much this season to bring in an arm but other players such as Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler could have value on the open market.
The Twins could even pull off a blockbuster trade that sends Josh Donaldson to a bigger market team or Byron Buxton to a team willing to give him a massive contract.
Most of these scenarios would be deflating for Twins fans but in order to get better on the mound, the Twins might have to sacrifice something