FORT MYERS, Fla. — The offseason certainly bled into spring training for the Twins.
Their third major acquisition since opening camp in mid-February — the tentative agreement struck Saturday with free-agent starter Lance Lynn — fills the remaining gap in the starting rotation. The Twins are clearly a better team with Lynn than without him.
Lynn doesn't make them a World Series favorite, and his acquisition doesn't give them the best rotation in the game. But the Twins are a more legitimate postseason contender now than they were a month ago.
Their projected four-man rotation to open the season — some order of Lynn, Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson and Jake Odorizzi (himself acquired after pitchers and catchers reported) — figures to be supplemented a few weeks in with Ervin Santana. None of them are likely to win a Cy Young Award, but that's a solid and deep rotation.
The 2017 Twins spent the season shuffling raw prospects, ancient stars, ailing veterans and career minor leaguers through the middle and back of the rotation. Injuries happen, but this looks like a much more stable rotation. The 2018 Twins are no longer counting on Phil Hughes to recover from his latest surgery, for Anibal Sanchez to recover lost magic or for Stephen Gonsalves to emerge from the minors.
Which raises the question: Is it easier to win big with one or two horses at the head of an otherwise weak rotation, or with a rotation that lacks a true ace but has no soft spot?
History says the former. There have been teams that thrived with a rotation of No. 3 starters, which is essentially what the Twins have at the moment, but few of them win a World Series. Most champions have an ace, a guy who delivers quality and quantity.
Now, maybe Berrios is capable of taking another big step forward. He's the one member of this five-man rotation with he possibility of serious growth.
But when you compare the Twins rotation with that of the Cleveland Indians — the only other team in the AL Central making a push this season — what stands out is that Cleveland has Corey Kluber. Kluber has won two Cy Young awards; no one will be surprised if he wins another. The rest of the projected Cleveland rotation (Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Denny Salazar, Josh Tomlin) isn't necessarily better than the Twins rotation, but they certainly aren't worse.
Of course, there is more to winning than a starting rotation. The Twins can legitimately believe they have a more potent lineup than Clevelanda. And we've seen a few championship teams in the wild card era without top-shelf aces. But they had truly deep and dominant bullpens. The back of the Twins 'pen isn't bad, but it isn't at the level of the 2002 Angels or the 2015 Royals.
The front office tried for Yu Darvish with the idea that he could be the missing ace. He signed elsewhere. The team redeployed the money offered Darvish on Odorizzi, Lynn and first baseman/designated hitter Logan Morrison. Maybe the better depth makes up of the lack of the ace.
The 2017 Twins snuck into the postseason. The 2018 Twins are positioned, after this flurry of late trades and signings, to make a strong push. In a few weeks begins the doing.