The Twins have shown interest in both Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel, reports La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The organization is “believed” to hold more interest in Kimbrel than in Keuchel at the moment, but the Twins have spoken with both players’ representatives about potential deals.
Once the clock struck midnight last night, the draft-pick compensation tied to both pitchers expired, meaning the Twins (or any other club) can now sign either pitcher without forfeiting any future draft selections or international spending allocations. As we noted late last week, Minnesota was one of the most logical landing spots for Kimbrel, and the fact that the Twins took the final three games of a four-game road set against the Rays should only serve to further embolden the front office.
Twins relievers rank 20th in the Majors with a 4.60 ERA in 2019, and while their 4.05 FIP (ninth-best) and 4.25 xFIP (11th) paint a more optimistic pitcher, the relief corps is top-heavy. Lefty Taylor Rogers has continued last year’s summer breakout with a brilliant start to the season, while Trevor May and 30-year-old rookie Ryne Harper have each been effective as well. Offseason signee Blake Parker has posted a strong 2.61 ERA, but his K/BB numbers and velocity have gone in the wrong direction while fielding-independent metrics forecast substantial regression. Righties Matt Magill, Tyler Duffey and Mike Morin have all been effective in smaller samples, with Magill and Duffey in particular posting encouraging strikeout numbers.
But the Twins have cycled through numerous options in the final couple spots of their ’pen, receiving poor results from Chase De Jong, Andrew Vasquez, Zack Littell, Austin Adams, Adalberto Mejia and Trevor Hildenberger. High hopes were held for former top prospect Fernando Romero as he moved from a starting role to the ’pen, but he’s struggled in both the Majors and in 19 2/3 innings of Triple-A ball. Adding Kimbrel would ideally help slow that revolving door for the final couple of bullpen spots and deepen the team’s relief mix for what looks like an increasingly likely ALDS run.
There’s certainly an argument to be made in favor of signing Keuchel, as well. The Twins have received terrific results from their top four starters, as each of Jake Odorizzi, Jose Berrios, Martin Perez and Kyle Gibson have posted ERAs and FIPs south of 4.00. Michael Pineda has struggled as the fifth starter in his return from Tommy John surgery and is currently on the injured list. He’ll need to have his innings limited anyhow, and moving him to the bullpen could net some interesting results. He’s held opponents to a .237/.283/.419 line the first time through the order and would likely see his 92.1 mph average fastball play up in shorter stints. Keuchel isn’t the ace he was when he won the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, but he’d be an upgrade over Pineda and, if Pineda takes to a bullpen role, could help to solidify both the starting pitching and relief pitching for the Twins.
It’s not a foregone conclusion that the Twins will actually sign either pitcher, but back in January, chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine spoke of supplementing the team’s core when its window was “wide open.” With an 11.5-game lead in the American League Central and a 94 percent chance to take the division, per the odds at both Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus, that would certainly appear to describe the current situation in Minnesota.
From a payroll vantage point, the Twins opened the 2018 season with a payroll just under $129MM but trimmed close to $10MM off that sum to begin the 2019 season. Signing either Kimbrel or Keuchel would quite likely push the Twins into franchise-record payroll territory, though attendance at Target Field has unsurprisingly been on the rise as the Twins have widened their division lead over the past month. There’s no indication that the team is facing any payroll constrictions, and Levine said in recent MLB Network appearance with Chris Russo (video link) that owner Jim Pohlad is “completely supportive of augmenting this team” over the course of the summer.