After a season in which the Minnesota Twins racked up the second-most victories in franchise history, this year's iteration of the hot stove has been one of the most intriguing in recent memory.
That will intensify in the coming days as the MLB Winter Meetings will take place in San Diego this week. What begins as a cozy get-together in a warm location will soon get down to business as general managers and executives will talk strategy revolving around a busy free-agent market and even some potential deals.
With the Twins having many priorities that still need to be checked off, the winter meetings could be a huge turning point in where the Twins offseason is headed, so what could happen in San Diego?
The pursuit of "impact pitching"
The Twins began the offseason by declaring an all-out pursuit to find impact pitching. This is great because by the time the season ended, we were all trying to talk ourselves into Randy Dobnak's chances of succeeding in a playoff game at Yankee Stadium.
So far, the Twins crusade has resulted in the retention of two familiar faces as Jake Odorizzi accepted a one-year qualifying offer and Michael Pineda (who still has to finish his 60-game suspension for violating MLB's PED policy) signed a two-year contract to stay in Minnesota.
Unfortunately, that's not enough to ease the concerns of Twins fans as they would like to see one or two more arms to pair with Pineda, Odorizzi and Jose Berrios.
As the Twins enter the winter meetings, the starting pitching market is drying up in a hurry in terms of free agency. Minnesota is not expected to land Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg, but their efforts have reportedly been focused in landing Madison Bumgarner or Hyun-Jin Ryu.
If the Twins strikeout on those two, it could mean falling into the next tier and crossing their fingers that Homer Bailey, Dallas Keuchel or Tanner Roark are the cure for what ails their pitching staff.
Could we see the Twins make a deal?
Another thing that the winter meetings are known for is the inclusion of earth-shattering trades. For example, the Twins seemed to be just fine with their outfield as they entered the 2012 winter meetings, but Terry Ryan went full YOLO and traded Denard Span and Ben Revere in a matter of hours.
For the most part, those trades were a bust outside of acquiring Trevor May in the Revere deal, but with the free-agent market drying up, history could also repeat itself.
One of the biggest names that could be on the move is Eddie Rosario, who set career-highs in home runs (32) and RBI (109) but also had his lowest on-base percentage (.300) since 2016 (.295). With a payday coming up in arbitration, the Twins may look to move Rosario in order to clear space, possibly setting the stage for the MLB debut of super prospect Alex Kirilloff.
Speaking of prospects, they could also be on the move as the Twins currently have a young nucleus and plenty of depth in the minor league system. It's unclear if the Twins are willing to deal Kirilloff, shortstop Royce Lewis or outfielder Trevor Larnach, but other prospects such as Wander Javier or Gilberto Celestino seem like reasonable, talented names to be floated in hopes of striking a deal.
In this scenario, the Twins would likely be looking for major league pitching and could target teams that are looking to dump salary. The Boston Red Sox would be a fine target here as they have three starting pitchers in David Price (owed $32 million per season through 2022), Chris Sale (due $30 million through a player option for 2023) and Nathan Eovaldi ($17 million through 2022).
Filling out the other areas of need
The pitching has dominated the discussion in terms of what the Twins should do in free agency, but they have other needs as well before they show up to Fort Myers relying on a bunch of prospects.
The infield has become an interesting talker as the Twins non-tendered C.J. Cron last week. On Sunday morning, the Star Tribune's La Velle E. Neal hinted that the Twins could shift their strategy and try to add more offense to the lineup. That could lead them to Josh Donaldson, who smashed 37 home runs with Atlanta last season and also would help them improve their defense.
The Twins could also go overseas for help as they've shown interest in Japanese first baseman Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, who has crushed 185 home runs for the Yokohama Bay Stars since the beginning of the 2014 season. (Insert flashbacks of Tsuyoshi Nishioka here.)
The Twins could also look at their bullpen, which also melted down in their playoff loss to the Yankees last October. Sergio Romo is close to signing somewhere per MLB Network's Jon Heyman, but KSTP's Darren Wolfson tweeted that the Twins aren't among his top three teams.
With most of the free-agent market for relievers already dried up, the Twins could also look for a trade here with Toronto's Ken Giles being an intriguing target. Although he dealt with nerve issues in his elbow, his 14.1 K/9 ratio last season means he could build a more reliable bridge to Taylor Rogers (or even take Rogers out of the closer role).
Can the Twins make a statement in San Diego?
To be clear, the winter meetings aren't the end-all, be-all for a team's postseason chances. Heck, most of the free agents didn't even sign until March last year! However, this is a great opportunity for the Twins to plant the seeds to upgrade their roster.
Even if the Twins don't come out of San Diego with a slew of new players, they need to do something to eliminate the flaws that plagued the team at the end of a mostly successful 2019 season. If they can do that, it should go a long way in easing the fears of a fan base that has let paranoia take over in the early months of the winter.