Minnesota Twins

Twins add starting pitching depth with signings of Rich Hill, Homer Bailey

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USA TODAY

Twins add starting pitching depth with signings of Rich Hill, Homer Bailey

The aggressive moves of the White Sox this offseason have pushed the team into what appears to be some version of win-now mode.

Win-now mode involves checking in on what division rivals are doing. After years of not caring about what the rest of the AL Central was doing, things have changed.

That brings us to the Minnesota Twins, the reigning division winners, signing starting pitchers Rich Hill and Homer Bailey. The Twins, like the White Sox, needed starting pitching depth this offseason and got some with these two veterans.

Hill, who will turn 40 during spring training, and Bailey, 33, aren’t the same level of pitching additions the White Sox got in Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez, but they do fill a need for the Twins. Both are on one-year deals. Bailey got $7 million guaranteed while Hill is getting $3 million with performance bonuses that could go up to $9.5 million.

Hill will miss the first chunk of the season while still recovering from a forearm strain. When he was healthy last year, he was good. He had a 2.45 ERA in 13 starts over 58.2 innings with 72 strikeouts for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Bailey was far more average last season with a 4.57 over 31 starts with the Kansas City Royals and Oakland A’s.

The Twins aren’t looking for top-end arms. Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi had strong seasons in 2019. So did Michael Pineda, although he will miss the first month-plus of 2020 for a drug suspension he started serving Sept. 7 of last season.

Adding Hill and Bailey gives the Twins more starting rotation depth in their quest to retain the AL Central crown. As White Sox fans can attest after watching the 2019 season, not having enough starting pitching depth can be crippling.

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Twins reportedly bringing Nelson Cruz back to keep terrorizing AL Central in 2020

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USA TODAY

Twins reportedly bringing Nelson Cruz back to keep terrorizing AL Central in 2020

Bad news for White Sox pitchers: Nelson Cruz will return to terrorize the AL Central in 2020.

That news is not at all shocking, considering the Minnesota Twins would have to be crazy to decline Cruz's option after he led The Bomba Squad with 41 homers in his first season in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. They aren't, it turns out, with the team reportedly bringing Cruz back for another spin next season.

Cruz was an unbelievable addition for the Twins in 2019, helping lead a lineup that hit more home runs than any other in the history of the game (307). As mentioned, Cruz accounted for 41 of them, and he hit a not-insignificant number off White Sox pitching — eight to be precise — with seven coming at Guaranteed Rate Field. It's possible some of the balls he blasted out on the South Side have yet to land.

Cruz finished with an ungodly .433/.521/.917 slash line, the aforementioned eight dingers and 24 RBIs in the 16 games he played against the White Sox in 2019.

Keeping Cruz in the middle of their lineup figures to keep the Twins the main threat to win the AL Central crown, as they did this season before being promptly swept out of the postseason by the New York Yankees earlier this week. Despite the quick playoff exit, the Twins looked unbeatable for much of the season, particularly feasting on sub-.500 teams like the White Sox, who lost 13 of the 19 games they played against the Twins.

In order to stay atop the AL Central heap, however, the Twins might have to make some significant replacements. Jonathan Schoop, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson and Sergio Romo are among the team's pending free agents. Odorizzi and Gibson departing would blow two holes in the Minnesota rotation (though rookie pitcher Randy Dobnak provided some high hopes for Twins fans at season's end). Schoop leaving would take 23 home runs off the total, and Romo exiting would leave the Twins sans closer.

Obviously, they'd still have an ace in Jose Berrios and a host of big boppers led by Cruz, so don't exactly expect a brief reign for the Twins at the top of the division.

The White Sox, though, will be looking to make their transition from rebuilding to contending, and that transition is planned to end with them as the division's premier team. To do that, they'll have to get by the Twins, not to mention the pitching-rich Cleveland Indians. For at least one year, Cruz & Co. could continue to stand in the way of that ascent.

Much like the Twins did last winter, the White Sox are expected to make a number of upgrades this offseason to improve their chances of competing with the current kings of the Central. Couple those moves with the White Sox young core — which will add Luis Robert, Michael Kopech and Nick Madrigal in 2020 — and you could be talking about a team ready to make a jump into Twins territory as soon as next season. We'll see.

One thing's for sure: The Twins will return their heaviest hitter for next season. So be alert in those outfield seats.

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White Sox can aid crusade to contend by adding some pop this winter

White Sox can aid crusade to contend by adding some pop this winter

The White Sox hit four home runs Tuesday night, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. But the guys who hit those round trippers have combined for just 31 of them this season.

Meanwhile, when Miguel Sano obliterated a baseball 482 feet in the third inning, he became the Minnesota Twins’ fifth player to reach 30 bombs this season. That’s the first time that’s happened in a single season in baseball history.

While you were sleeping, the high-powered Twins defeated the White Sox on a walk-off hit by pitch, one of the least powerful ways you can win a ballgame. But the team from the Land of 10,000 Lakes has won far more games this season by smashing baseballs into the stratosphere.

They’ll likely win an AL Central title on that premise, and while it’s not the only way to set yourself up as a World Series contender, in 2019 it’s one of the better ways. The top eight teams in the game in home runs are either going to the postseason or remain in a pennant race: the Twins, the New York Yankees, the Houston Astros, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Oakland Athletics, the Cubs, the Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers.

So let’s bring this around to the White Sox, whose winter shopping list is beginning to take shape as they prepare to set their sights on the offseason.

We all know Rick Hahn and his front office will be targeting starting pitching, the general manager has said as much after the organization’s major league ready depth in that area was worn bare in 2019. We’ll have to wait to find out whether Hahn inks a top-of-the-rotation star or provides depth behind All-Star hurler Lucas Giolito. But that shouldn’t — nay, can’t — be the only area that gets a facelift.

The White Sox also need an everyday right fielder, the internal options whittled from bountiful to non-existent thanks to injuries and under-performance in the minor leagues this season. The White Sox could probably also use a designated hitter. While Zack Collins — one of the home-run hitters Tuesday night — is getting a lot of reps there right now, if this team has eyes on contending next season, they might not have the luxury of playing “let’s see what he can do” with Collins.

Those two positions would figure to provide opportunities for Hahn’s front office to add some desperately needed pop to this lineup.

The White Sox are in the middle of their final up-close-and-personal demonstration of what an influx of offseason power can do, playing against baseball’s home-run leaders in the Twins. No team in baseball has launched more homers than the Twins this season, which is by design after they spent last offseason adding Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop and Marwin Gonzalez, a quartet that combined for 104 home runs in 2018. This year, they’ve blasted a combined 95 with a week and a half worth of games left.

The power numbers are remarkable in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and in an era where the home-run ball is dominating, they’re doing it better than anyone. White Sox fans surely don’t need to be reminded of that fact. The Twins have hit 39 home runs against the South Siders this season, including 27 of them at Guaranteed Rate Field. Cruz, who is the only player in the bigs to hit at least 35 homers in each of the last six seasons, has hit eight of his 37 dingers off White Sox pitching.

While the White Sox likely won’t deviate from their rebuilding efforts just to copy the Twins, there’s no doubt they could use some additional power. They came into Tuesday night with the sixth fewest home runs in baseball, some of the game’s worst teams the only ones behind them. With the Twins using the longball to win a division crown and make themselves one of the best teams in the game, surely the White Sox could benefit from mixing some outside pop in with their cavalcade of young players.

They’ll likely get some help from Luis Robert, who belted 32 home runs in the minors this season a year after hitting none while battling thumb injuries in 2018. Nick Madrigal probably won’t do much for the White Sox home-run total, but a full, healthy season of Eloy Jimenez should. He’s en route to a 30-homer rookie season despite missing nearly 40 games. Jose Abreu certainly hasn’t been the problem, flirting with a career high in homers while blasting past his career high in RBIs. James McCann, Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson all had terrific seasons, but is a significant jump in home runs expected for 2020? Probably not.

So added power will have to come from the two holes that need plugging in the everyday lineup.

Who’s out there? Fans will jump right to J.D. Martinez, who’s expected to opt out of his deal with the Boston Red Sox and become a highly pursued free agent. Martinez would fit the bill, all right, with 35 more homers this season to bring his total since the start of the 2015 season to a whopping 183.

Martinez will have his fair share of pursuers, and it’ll cost some big bucks to make his opt-out worth it (even though the Red Sox would probably be happy to see his salary come off the books given their supposed financial pickle). But the White Sox have that much-discussed money to spend, and Martinez would solve their power deficiency as their everyday DH.

Corner outfield free agents to-be include Nicholas Castellanos, Yasiel Puig and Marcell Ozuna. If the disastrous Pittsburgh Pirates decide to let Starling Marte walk, he could add a career-high 23 homers to the lineup. Kole Calhoun could hit the market, and he’s past the 30-homer mark this season. He’s also the only lefty in that group, something that could matter considering the White Sox projected lineup for 2020 and beyond is heavily right handed.

And then there’s the trade market. But remember that the depth of the White Sox farm system doesn’t look much like it did a year ago, and it could be rather difficult for Hahn to create an appealing package of prospects that could fetch the kind of impact bat (or arm, for that matter) the team would like to add to the roster.

The opportunities are there for the White Sox to make some Twins-esque additions and ratchet up the power numbers in 2020. It won’t mean they’ll be mashing at a Twins-esque level — considering that no team in baseball has, even the ones also hitting homers in bunches — but it’s a trait that’s helping teams across the game win on a nightly basis.

The White Sox could help their crusade to contend in 2020 — to join that group of baseball’s best teams — by improving themselves in that area this winter.

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