MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — In the mere three weeks since the end of the lockout, no major league team has altered its outlook more than the Minnesota Twins.
Last month, the Twins were a last-place club with thin starting pitching coming off a 73-89 finish.
Now, even if their shortcomings persist into the summer, they have Carlos Correa to play shortstop and hit in the heart of the order.
Any bettor who predicted that one this winter would have enjoyed quite the windfall of cash when the 2021 All-Star and Gold Glove award winner picked the Twins for a $35.1 million annual salary that is the highest in history for an infielder.
“It tells you all need to know about what they’re thinking upstairs. They want to win right now, and I think that’s definitely our best chance to do that,” Twins reliever Tyler Duffey said. “Bring in a guy like him who’s been there and done it and has a ton of experience and a lot of years left on his career, it’s going to be overnight a big, big shift for us.”
Never before have the Twins landed one of the biggest prizes on the free agent market like Correa, but the key to a middle-of-the-pack payroll team getting a deal done with an elite player at a premium position was to make it a short one.
The three-year contract includes an opt-out for Correa after each of the first two seasons, meaning that he can enter another bidding war next winter and potentially price himself out of Minnesota.
The 27-year-old didn’t pick the Twins just for their willingness to let him walk, though. Correa raved about the connection he felt with the team. He has a staggering .783 slugging percentage in 17 career games at Target Field, his highest at any current major league ballpark. He even has a previously acquired taste for a Twin Cities culinary favorite: the cheese-infused hamburgers known as juicy lucys.
“We’re not seeing this like a one-year thing,” Correa said at his introductory news conference. “We’re seeing this as, ‘I want to build a championship culture in this organization. I want to show you guys what I can bring to the table so we can have a long-term relationship at some point.’ I’m very excited to show them what I can do and for this team to start building that championship level and championship mentality for years to come.”
The Twins are all ears.
“How do we make this look like a long-term partnership?” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “We recognize that takes work and time, and we’re going to invest and get to know each other over that time. The contract structure is creative and unique, and we’ll address that at the right time.”
Correa will make his Twins debut on April 7, when they open the season at home against Seattle. There are four games against the Mariners and a two-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on the docket for Minnesota’s first homestand.
Correa said he appreciates the batter’s eye at Target Field the most, the living wall of junipers that stretches from the berm beyond center field to the limestone façade of the upper deck. He has six home runs there, including one in the 2020 AL wild card series.
“You can see the ball real well,” Correa said. “The stats speak for themselves in that ballpark, but I feel really comfortable in the box.”
NEW LOOK: ROTATION
Twins starting pitchers had a 5.18 ERA last season, the third-worst in the AL. The rotation to open 2022 will be completely different than a year ago, with newcomer Sonny Gray now fronting the group. Gray was acquired from Cincinnati in one of three trades the Twins struck in the first three days after the lockout was lifted.
Dylan Bundy and Chris Archer were signed as free agents nearly four months apart to fill in the gaps. Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober are the holdovers after promising debuts in 2021. Kenta Maeda (elbow) and Randy Dobnak (finger) are out with long-term injuries.
NEW LOOK: LINEUP
Catcher Gary Sánchez and infielder Gio Urshela were fetched from the Yankees in the salary-dumping deal that sent third baseman Josh Donaldson to New York and paved the way for the Twins to sign Correa. Urshela and Luis Arraez are likely to share the bulk of the time at third base.
Since trading away Nelson Cruz last summer, the Twins effectively did away with a full-time designated hitter. Sánchez, whose defense behind the plate is well behind incumbent Ryan Jeffers, will probably get plenty of DH at-bats along with first baseman Miguel Sanó and Arraez.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
With Ryan and Ober still having plenty to prove, the Twins were hesitant to rush any of their other prospects into the rotation for now. Jordan Balazovic, Matt Canterino and Josh Winder are in the up-next group, perhaps later this season.
Shortstop Royce Lewis and third baseman Jose Miranda are the potential stars-in-waiting on the position player side. Lewis missed all of 2021 with a torn ACL after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the 2020 minor league season, so the Twins will continue to bring the first overall pick in the 2017 draft along carefully.
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