Eye to the future, Twins are thinking 2022 as MLB Trade Deadline approaches

GM Thad Levine addressed questions about 2021 and acknowledged that the Twins expect to sell at the trade deadline. But he said that they believe in the core of the team and aim to contend in 2022.

The Twins have two draft picks Sunday, beginning the first of 20 rounds of the amateur draft this year. After the draft, attention will turn to trade discussions with much more resources, time and energy devoted to it — after Minnesota’s selections.

If you read between a few lines, the Twins already have turned their attention to getting the best value as sellers this month. Despite their mathematical postseason chances still technically living, that’s the sense you got while listening to Twins GM Thad Levine as he joined “Inside Twins” with Cory Provus this weekend.

“We’re trying to be as optimistic as we can — but objective — and I think at this point we are having some active conversations with clubs with an eye towards improving our talent pool for the future for this franchise,” Levine said.

Now, the open question among many Twins fans is whether that “future” should mean April 2022 or some undefined point in time far beyond that. It’s easier to rebuild than it is to reload. But in my humble opinion there is no such thing as a choice.

The Twins have to gun for a division title in 2022, for a few simple reasons. Not the least of which is Byron Buxton is eligible to become a free agent afterward, and replacing the value of even his partial seasons would be a challenge. The same is true for José Berríos, perhaps to an even greater extent. Because whereas a half-year of Buxton is hard to replace in center field, there are outfielders that you could sign and hope that you don’t have a half-dozen injured all at the same time. If that same theory is true for starting pitchers, the Twins haven’t proven it this year. And the wave of stud pitching prospects that was supposed to be on the way has been held up by injuries, surgeries and shutdowns. Oddly enough, the hope for a dramatic and immediate pitching turnaround next year hinges on a handful of pitchers whom most of us only know from their minor league stats and innuendo. Jhoan Duran, Jordan Balazovic, Matt Canterino, Josh Winder, Cole Sands, Edwar Colina, Chris Vallimont

But the decision makers who run the baseball arm of the Twins appear to agree with that original assessment — that next year should be postseason-competitive rather than Step 2 in a longer process.

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“That’s exactly the crux of our conversation internally,” Levine said. “We believed in this team heading into 2021; we believe in the core of this team heading into 2022. We are going to – if we do make trades – it will be with an eye towards staying competitive in the near term. Because the core of this team is extremely strong. We know we’ve got to get better in our decision making in our front office, and I think other things need to transpire here to put ourselves in a position to excel in 2022, but I believe we have the core personnel to be very competitive as soon as next year.”

To anyone reading that quote with skepticism, I would only suggest considering how it lines up with the timelines in Minnesota for Levine and Derek Falvey. Next spring will be their 6th in charge. Without rehashing the postseason trips, misfortune, and the terrible timing of the global pandemic from a Twins perspective, I wonder if Year 6 sounds like an appealing time to begin again from scratch.

Levine gets the last word here: “We are one of the teams that is underperforming more significantly than any other team. We were projected to be a playoff team and the team has faltered a little bit. There’s not denying the record at this point; we are not tracking where we had aspired to track. … We had hoped to build a team that was going to allow us to prevail beyond where we had been in the playoffs in recent years.”

That hasn’t happened, Levine said, so they’ll turn their attention to bolstering the talent base of the club beyond this year, “and learning as much as we can from this season we’re experiencing.”