The Twins’ biggest offseason need was no secret — apart from Jose Berrios, every member of their 2019 starting rotation was scheduled to reach free agency. With Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda, and Kyle Gibson all hitting the open market and Martin Perez also becoming a free agent after the Twins bought out their club option, the AL Central champs were faced with both a predicament and something of an opportunity.
While Minnesota starters collectively ranked in the top third or top half of the league in most major statistical categories in 2019, the rotation was seen as more of a solid complement to the team’s big-hitting lineup than as a strength unto itself. There was certainly room for not just improvement, but significant improvement to the pitching corps, especially for a Twins club that entered the winter with very few future payroll commitments. As chief baseball officer Derek Falvey told reporters after the season, the club was intent on adding “impact pitching” to its rotation and was open to spending to add those arms.
As the calendar has turned to the new year, Minnesota has indeed restocked its staff with starters both old and new, though on paper, some of that promised “impact” isn’t obviously present. The first steps were equal parts promising and cost-effective for the Twins — Odorizzi accepted the team’s one-year, $17.8MM qualifying offer rather than test free agency, and then re-signing Pineda for two years and $20MM.
After those familiar faces returned to the fold, however, the Twins faced some long weeks of rumors and missed targets before eventually landing a pair of veterans. Homer Bailey and Rich Hill each signed one-year contracts with Minnesota on the same day, with Bailey earning $7MM in guaranteed money and Hill pulling in $3MM guaranteed (with hefty incentives). Bailey got his career on track with a solid 2019 season following multiple rough years with the Reds, while Hill isn’t going to be able to pitch until midseason due to his recovery from primary revision surgery.
The Twins pursued such names as Zack Wheeler, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, Jordan Lyles, and Japanese hurler Shun Yamaguchi, yet all wound up signing elsewhere. As for the team’s own remaining free agents, Gibson signed with the Rangers while Perez inked a deal with the Red Sox. On the trade front, the Marlins’ Elieser Hernandez have been on the radar, though no deal has been completed. This isn’t to say that Minnesota hasn’t been aggressive, as shown most clearly by their five-year, $100MM offer to Wheeler before the righty instead opted to sign with the Phillies. But, the free agent pitching market moved much faster (and at higher costs) than expected, leaving the Twins missing out on many of their first-choice options.
Barring any further pickups via trades or free agency, the Twins’ Opening Day rotation now stands as Berrios, Odorizzi, and Bailey, with two of the young trio of Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer, and Lewis Thorpe handling the final two slots. Pineda is unavailable for the first 39 games of the season while he finishes out a 60-game PED suspension, and when he returns, one of Dobnak/Smeltzer/Thorpe will continue to start until Hill is healthy and ready. Top prospect Brusdar Graterol also looms as an early-season callup after making his MLB debut in 2019.
It isn’t the slam-dunk collection of upgrades many Twin Cities fans were hoping for, yet it’s also wrong to say that this group doesn’t have any talent. While Hill’s injury status has long been a question mark, he has pitched like an ace when he has been healthy over the last four years. Berrios might well rise to true ace status himself, if he can avoid another late-season slump and consistently pitch like he did in the first half of the 2019 season. Odorizzi and Pineda both pitched well for Minnesota last season, and as a fifth starter option, Bailey isn’t a bad veteran arm to have amidst the younger hurlers.
Also, in not spending big now, the Twins are keeping some financial powder dry so they can spend later, potentially on a midseason trade acquisition if necessary. Then there’s the additional chance that Minnesota could indeed spread some cash around this offseason, though on another major hitter (such as Josh Donaldson) rather than another pitcher.
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