Pablo López adds depth, but Twins eye five-man rotation

On the eve of the 2022 season, the Twins swung a trade for starter Chris Paddack, inserting him then into what became a six-man rotation. Partially as a result of the lockout — pitchers had less time to build up during spring training — the Twins used that six-man rotation during the early going last season.

As they sit today, the Twins appear to have six solid rotation arms, and a good number of depth options, too, after acquiring Pablo López for Luis Arraez from the Miami Marlins on Friday. However, although president of baseball operations Derek Falvey did did not rule out a six-man rotation entirely, the Twins seem less likely to go that route in 2023.

“I will tell you that our hope right now is that we will go with five starters, and we feel like we have five good ones, however that shakes out, but ultimately have some depth behind it to make sure that we’re in a good place,” Falvey said after announcing the Arraez trade.

If that’s the case, and everyone makes it through spring training healthy, it would appear as if Bailey Ober could be the odd man out.

The Twins are expecting veteran Kenta Maeda back at full health after he spent the entirety of the 2022 season on the injured list while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Same goes for Tyler Mahle, who ended last season on the injured list with a shoulder issue. Those two and López should join Sonny Gray and Joe Ryan, the Twins’ top two starters last season, in the rotation.

But even if Ober is the sixth option for the time being — Ober himself spent much of last season on the injured list (groin) before returning near the end of the season and finishing strong — the Twins will need more than just five starters to get through the season. And this year, much more than in the recent past, they seem to have depth after rebuilding their rotation over the past few years via trades.

The Twins acquired Maeda in 2020 from the Dodgers, swapped slugger Nelson Cruz for Ryan — then a Rays minor leaguer — at the 2021 trade deadline, and executed separate deals with the Reds in 2022 for Gray and Mahle. The newest addition, López, made a career-high 32 starts last season, posting a 3.75 earned-run average across 180 innings pitched for Miami.

“This is no disrespect to any other staff that’s been here, but when I think about what Pablo means alongside Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle and Kenta Maeda and Joe Ryan — and the depth beyond that with Bailey Ober and Louis Varland and Simeon Woods Richardson — I feel like this is as deep a group as we’ve ever had,” Falvey said. “And now we have some real premium guys near the top of the rotation, and Pablo makes it even better.”

Varland and Woods Richardson, two of the team’s top 10 prospects per MLB Pipeline, both debuted in September, getting a brief taste of the majors. Josh Winder, another young starter, spent last season between the rotation and the bullpen. And at some point late in the season, Paddack could return, too. He underwent his second Tommy John surgery last year and in September said he was targeting an August return.

Last season, the Twins had 14 different pitchers start at least one game as injuries to the rotation piled up. This year, the Twins should have plenty of rotation options ready to step in when an injury arises.

“Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hopefully get to the end of March and we’re kicking off the regular season and everyone’s healthy. That’s a great problem to have,” Falvey said. “Ultimately, we’ve just got to find a way to get everyone healthy and going.

“I think the key for us is that when you break camp, you’ve got five starters. Maybe it’s the five that you’re hopeful you have for the whole season. You know you’re going to need another guy or two to step up along the way to fill in some starts, to hold the load for maybe someone who gets dinged up along the way.”

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