The Twins’ need for bullpen help has been apparent for much of the season, and La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that they’ve “definitely checked on” a pair of the market’s top options: Blue Jays closer Ken Giles and Padres closer Kirby Yates. Both right-handers are controlled through the 2020 season via arbitration. Neal notes that the Blue Jays and Padres both had scouts on hand to watch the Twins’ Triple-A club recently, as did the Diamondbacks and Pirates (presumably, in addition to multiple other organizations).
Minnesota has seen the division-rival Indians creep back into the divisional picture with a six-game winning streak to close out the first half. The Twins took two out of three from the Rangers to finish out the half and were in position for a potential sweep Sunday. However, the offense couldn’t break a tie before the ’pen allowed a trio of runs in the top of the 11th inning.
Left-hander Taylor Rogers has quietly broken through as one of baseball’s best relievers. He boasts a 1.56 ERA with 11.2 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 0.62 HR/9 and a 46.9 percent grounder rate in 86 2/3 innings dating back to last June, when he began heavily relying on a slider that transformed his arsenal and perhaps his career. Minnesota has also received strong output from 30-year-old rookie right-hander Ryne Harper.
Looking past that pairing, Tyler Duffey has generally been sharp but has stumbled recently, with runs allowed in three of four outings. Trevor May and Matt Magill are both missing bats at high clips but also issuing far too many walks. Offseason signee Blake Parker has has a solid ERA and 10 saves but is averaging a sky-high 2.03 HR/9 with too many walks himself. He’s unlikely to sustain his 3.77 ERA (5.72 FIP, 4.74 xFIP). Journeyman Mike Morin has a 3.18 ERA in 22 2/3 innings but has only fanned 11 hitters in that time.
Those seven names lead Twins relievers in innings pitched, but Minnesota has utilized another 13 arms out of the ’pen so far in 2019. Most have struggled considerably. Twins relievers do rank either 12th or 13th in the Majors in collective ERA, FIP and xFIP, but it’s been a top-heavy unit that, like any contender’s bullpen, would benefit significantly from another experienced late-inning arm.
Giles, 28, is earning $6.3MM and is arguably in the midst of his best season in the Majors. Through 31 innings, he’s pitched to a 1.45 ERA with a career-high 15.4 K/9 against 2.6 BB/9 and 0.58 HR/9. Josh Hader is the only qualified pitcher in baseball with a higher swinging-strike rate than Giles’ ridiculous 20.4 percent mark. Giles also ranks in the top 10 in terms of opponents’ chase rate (39.1 percent) and average fastball velocity (97.3 mph). With the Blue Jays in a rebuild and already well out of playoff contention, he’s among the safest bets to be traded in all of MLB.
Yates, 32, has been even better. The second waiver-claim-turned-relief-ace the Padres have unearthed in the past couple of seasons, Yates erupted as one baseball’s premier relievers upon adopting a splitter that ranks as one of the game’s most effective offerings. He’s recorded video-game numbers so far in 2019, with a 1.15 ERA, 13.9 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 0.23 HR/9 and a 48 percent grounder rate. He’s being paid at an even more affordable $3.0625MM rate in 2019, but San Diego, unlike Toronto, is firmly in the postseason picture. The Padres are an insurmountable 14 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West but sit just two games out of a Wild Card spot. Reports have indicated that the Padres would need an “overwhelming offer” or “unforeseen haul” in order to move Yates.
It stands to reason that the Twins have checked in far more relievers than just these two, of course. Twins brass has surely checked in on the majority of relievers publicly known to be available — and quite likely several that don’t stand out as readily apparent trade candidates. It’s perhaps of some note that both players listed are controlled beyond the 2019 campaign, though Minnesota has also been connected to Giants closer Will Smith — a free agent at season’s end. If the Twins do prefer relievers controlled through at least 2020, some other options would include San Francisco’s Sam Dyson (profiled here last Friday), Detroit’s Shane Greene, Baltimore’s Mychal Givens, Seattle’s Roenis Elias and Kansas City’s Ian Kennedy.