- Right-hander Jordan Lyles agreed to a surprising two-year, $16MM contract with the Rangers on Friday. The Twins were among those who inquired about Lyles before then, per Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News. Minnesota may have gotten more serious about Lyles had it not re-signed righty Michael Pineda to a two-year, $20MM accord on Thursday, Wolfson suggests. However, even with Pineda and Jake Odorizzi (who accepted the Twins’ qualifying offer) back in the fold, they still have a need for starting help. Pineda, Odorizzi and Jose Berrios are the only in-house shoo-ins to occupy rotation spots in 2020.
10:17pm: The Athletics are one of the teams with interest in Romo, Jon Morosi of MLB Network tweets. Romo could return to the Bay Area, where he spent the first several years of his career as a member of the Giants. He won three championships in San Francisco.
8:27pm: Veteran reliever Sergio Romo appears to be cruising towards his next deal. Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter) says there’s momentum towards an agreement, with a decision anticipated during the Winter Meetings.
What’s not yet clear is where the 36-year-old hurler is headed. The California native has been all over the map in the past few campaigns, most recently thriving with the Twins late in 2019.
There are still three teams engaged on Romo, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN (Twitter link). Notably, that trio of leading contenders for his services — all unknown, at present — does not include the Minnesota organization. The Twins have maintained interest, per Wolfson, but not (at least to this point) to the same “level” as the other clubs involved.
Avila, 33 in January, is no stranger to the AL Central, having spent parts of eight seasons with the Tigers plus another year with the White Sox. He’ll give the Twins a left-handed-hitting complement to 2019 breakout star Mitch Garver and, ostensibly, replace Jason Castro, who seems likely to land a starting gig elsewhere in free agency.
The veteran Avila is somewhat of a divisive player, as some view his perennially low batting average and lofty strikeout totals as too detrimental to provide consistent value. Others will point to his sky-high walk rates and above-average power in suggesting that more traditional metrics undersell his value at the plate. Indeed, Avila had one of the game’s more bizarre stat lines in 2019 when he slashed .207/.353/.421 with a 17.9 percent walk rate (third among hitters with 200+ plate appearances) and a 33.2 percent strikeout rate (12th among that same subset of hitters).
Garver, 28, still stands out as the obvious starter in Minnesota after exploding with a .273/.365/.630 batting line and 31 home runs in 2019. Even if next year’s ball is corrected to be less conducive to home runs, the Twins assuredly want to plug Garver into the lineup as often as possible after a such a stout performance. He’ll see time against lefties and righties alike, but Avila will be a more than capable stand-in when Garver needs a breather and a righty is on the hill. For his career, Avila is a .241/.358/.417 hitter (15.3 BB%, 28.7 K%) when holding the platoon advantage, although his .212/.307/.311 career line against lefties is all one needs to see to steer him away from opposing southpaws. If Garver needs a day off when a left-hander is on the mound, the Twins could perhaps look to plus super-utility man Willians Astudillo and his right-handed bat into the lineup at catcher. Astudillo himself could’ve been deployed as a backup catcher in 2020, but in Avila, the Twins have found a drastically better source of on-base percentage and a better defensive option that allows Astudillo to continue on in a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none role.
Avila has long been adept at controlling the running game (career 30 percent caught-stealing rate), but he was particularly impressive in 2019 with Arizona. Although he was only a part-time catcher there as well, Avila nabbed 11 of the 21 men who attempted to run on him (52 percent), and he was 9-for-30 (30 percent) a year prior. Avila’s framing rated poorly in 2017, but the D-backs’ efforts to improve him in that regard were successful, as he was above-average in both his seasons with Arizona, per both FanGraphs and Statcast. Baseball Prospectus, meanwhile, rated him as one of the game’s best at blocking pitches in the dirt in 2019.
Minnesota still has substantial work to do this offseason — namely augmenting a rotation that currently looks too similar to its 2019 iteration — but adding Avila to the fold crosses a more minor need off the to-do list at a reasonable price point. The one-year term of the deal continues with the Derek Falvey/Thad Levine-led front office’s penchant for short-term investments as well, thus maintaining future payroll flexibility. If the Twins hope to truly bolster the rotation, they’ll probably need to eschew that preference, but for smaller-scale moves like this it’s sensible to minimize contractual length.
The Twins have re-signed right-hander Michael Pineda to a two-year deal, Pierre Noujaim of FOX 9 Minneapolis reports (Twitter link). The Athletic’s Dan Hayes reports that Pineda will earn $20MM on the deal, which will become official after Pineda passes a physical. Pineda is represented by ISE Baseball.
Pineda will exactly double the two-year, $10MM deal he originally signed with Minnesota in the 2017-18 season, a contract that was really a one-year pact given that Pineda had undergone Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2018. This new contract also comes in the midst of some extenuating circumstances, as Pineda is still in the midst of a 60-game PED suspension and will miss the first 39 games of the 2020 season. That 60-game absence was originally an 80-game suspension, reduced on appeal since Pineda (who turns 31 in January) was able to provide evidence that the hydrochlorothiazide found in his system wasn’t being used as a PED masking agent.
While this situation could have made some teams wary about Pineda’s 2019 performance, and perhaps paved the way for him to return the team that knew him best, there was ample interest in his services. Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News reports that the Blue Jays, Giants, Rangers, Braves, and White Sox also looked at adding Pineda in free agency. MLBTR ranked Pineda 17th on our list of the winter’s top 50 free agents, and his contract fell just shy of the $22MM we projected he would land on a two-year deal.
In the wake of his TJ surgery, Pineda delivered arguably the best season of his career in 2019, posting a 4.01 ERA, 8.6 K/9, and 5.00 K/BB rate over 146 innings. It wasn’t an entirely smooth year, since he had two minimal injured list stints (for a triceps strain and knee tendinitis), and Pineda also had one of the game’s least-impressive spin rates.
Still, a 2.7 fWAR season coming off Tommy John surgery is certainly sturdy, and the Twins can expect even more from the righty once he returns in May. While multiple injuries and issues with the home run ball have dimmed the profile of a player who was considered one of the sport’s top pitching prospects, Pineda looks like a very solid mid-rotation candidate in this next phase of his career.
Facing one of the more dire pitching situations of any contender heading into the offseason, the Twins have now brought back both Pineda and Jake Odorizzi, who accepted the club’s one-year, $17.8MM qualifying offer. Getting Odorizzi and Pineda back at reasonable prices before the Winter Meetings is already a nice result for Minnesota, who still have up to two more rotation spots to fill beyond ace Jose Berrios. The next arm could come at a much higher price, as the Twins are making a push to sign Madison Bumgarner, and they also made Zack Wheeler an offer before Wheeler signed with the Phillies.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
Past reports have already linked the Blue Jays and Marlins to Yoshitomo Tsutsugo’s market, and now MLB.com’s Jon Morosi tweets that three AL Central teams are also in the mix. The White Sox, Tigers, and Twins all have some interest in the Japanese slugger, who has hit 185 homers for Yokohama since the start of the 2014 season. Tsutsugo’s left-handed power would fit in any of the three teams’ lineups, though his limited defensive capability as a first baseman or outfielder could see him mostly play first base if he wound up in Minnesota, since Nelson Cruz is locked into DH duties. Chicago could deploy Tsutsugo along with Jose Abreu in the first base/DH mix or play Tsutsugo in the outfield on days when Yasmani Grandal is getting a DH or first base day, while Tsutsugo would simply step right into an everyday role for the hitting-starved Tigers.
TODAY, 1:58pm: The Cardinals could also have interest in Bumgarner, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand writes.
WEDNESDAY, 7:52pm: The Reds are indeed among the teams with ongoing interest in Bumgarner, tweets MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. Cincinnati has been aggressive thus far and has also been linked to free-agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna, further backing reports that they’re willing to sign players who rejected a qualifying offer.
5:35pm: USA Today’s Bob Nightengale suggests otherwise regarding the White Sox, writing that they’ve been zeroed in on Wheeler and have yet to even enter into negotiations with Bumgarner’s camp.
2:45pm: Zack Wheeler is off the board on a reported five-year, $118MM agreement with the Phillies, and it sounds like a decision from fellow free agent Madison Bumgarner might not be far behind. Even before word of Wheeler’s agreement broke, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand tweeted that some within the industry also expect Bumgarner to sign before the Winter Meetings begin next week.
At this point, the Twins and White Sox are among the “heaviest” suitors for the longtime Giants lefty, tweets Andy Martino of SNY, who adds that the Yankees are involved “to some degree.” Meanwhile, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweets that even after the Braves signed Cole Hamels to a one-year, $18MM deal earlier today, they’re still not completely out of the Bumgarner bidding. And ESPN’s Buster Olney somewhat speculatively links the Reds, who also pursued but missed out on Wheeler, to the Bumgarner market as well (Twitter link). Other clubs are surely involved as well.
It seems unlikely that the bidding for Bumgarner will escalate to the same heights as the Wheeler market, although USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweeted earlier that the Braves jumped on Hamels in part due to concerns that Bumgarner’s price could approach $100MM.
Regardless of where he lands, there’s little doubt that Bumgarner is among the best arms on the market this winter. He’s not the clear-cut ace that he was earlier in his career when he was busy establishing himself as a postseason legend, but the 30-year-old Bumgarner still posted a 3.90 ERA and a matching FIP through 207 2/3 innings this past season. His average fastball velocity (91.4 mph) and strikeout rate (8.8 K/9, 24.1 percent) are both down a bit from peak levels, but Bumgarner still displayed impeccable command (1.9 BB/9) this past season and topped 30 starts for the first time since his injuring his shoulder in 2017’s dirt-bike debacle.
Bumgarner has made 55 starts across the past two seasons, pitching to a 3.66 ERA (110 ERA+, 3.94 FIP) while averaging 8.3 strikeouts and 2.3 walks per nine innings pitched. He rejected a qualifying offer from the Giants, meaning he’ll require some draft and possibly international bonus forfeitures (with exact compensation dependent on which team ultimately signs him). At this point, there’s little indication that the incumbent Giants are a serious player for Bumgarner, but they’re in position to recoup a compensatory pick between Competitive Balance Round B and Round 3 of next year’s draft (as they did when Will Smith signed with the Braves).
- The Twins were also among the most ardent teams in pursuit of Wheeler, according to La Velle E. Neal of the Star Tribune. They offered Wheeler a five-year, $100MM offer, but the Phillies upended them. Had Wheeler taken the Twins’ offer, it would have been the richest in franchise history. Now, even after Jake Odorizzi accepted a qualifying offer from the Twins, they’re still in clear need of starting help. Odorizzi and Jose Berrios are the only sure things for Minnesota’s 2020 rotation, meaning we probably haven’t seen the last of the team’s starting pursuits this winter. Indeed, the Twins seem to be aggressively going after free-agent left-hander Madison Bumgarner.
There’s momentum in the market for righty Zack Wheeler, who is reportedly already sitting on a nine-figure offer. The Phillies are now perhaps the strongest pursuer of the 29-year-old, Buster Olney of ESPN.com reports.
With the Philadelphia organization firmly entering the picture, Wheeler is sitting in an enviable position. There are a host of other teams still in the picture. Olney cites the Reds, White Sox, and Rangers as remaining involved. We’ve previously heard of intense interest from the Twins, who were reportedly still in the picture as of yesterday.
In another report this morning, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter) suggests that the Reds and White Sox are the other teams most clearly in the mix with the Phillies. But it’s still a fluid bidding situation, so far as is known publicly. Indeed, Rosenthal adds that the Angels “have shown real interest,” though their status at the moment isn’t clear.
This could be building into a perfect storm for Wheeler, whose big arm and relative youth hold obvious appeal. It seems teams have come to terms with his history of arm issues and are banking on a two-year track record of durability. In our ranking of the top 50 free agents, we predicted widespread interest to drive Wheeler to a five-year, $100MM deal with the Phillies. It now seems he will top that guarantee; Olney even floats the possibility that a team will end up offering a sixth year to land the in-demand hurler.
- Righty Matt Wisler, whom the Twins claimed off waivers from the Mariners in October, will make just over $700K in 2020, per Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News. That looks like a rather team-friendly amount for the out-of-options Wisler, who had been projected to earn $1MM next season. The 27-year-old Wisler, a former top prospect, divided last season between Seattle and San Diego and logged a 5.61 ERA/4.23 FIP with outstanding strikeout and walk rates of 11.05 and 2.81 across 51 1/3 innings.
3:37pm: The White Sox are “willing” to push beyond the five-year, $100MM mark in order to sign Wheeler, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports. Whether they’ve actually made such an offer isn’t clear.
11:57am: It seems the Wheeler auction could be building to a crescendo. It’s possible and “maybe even probable” that he’ll sign before the Winter Meetings open next week, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter).
9:35am: Free agent righty Zack Wheeler is going to break the $100MM barrier with his next contract, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription link). Per the report, Wheeler already has at least one offer in hand of at least $100MM.
MLBTR foresaw intense bidding for Wheeler entering the offseason, when we ranked him fourth in earning power among all free agents. It seems our prediction of five years and $100MM — aggressive at the time — will actually end up just on the light side. The question remains how far north of that figure Wheeler will roll.
Rosenthal lists the White Sox, Twins, Reds, Rangers and Blue Jays as teams with ongoing interest in Wheeler. That’s a non-exclusive list; quite a few other clubs have also been tied to the 29-year-old. The involvement of such organizations reflects the reason we were so bullish on Wheeler’s market entering the winter. Simply put, he checks a lot of boxes for a lot of teams.
It’ll cost draft compensation to sign Wheeler, but that’s not an overwhelming deterrent for a still-youthful player who possesses top-of-the-rotation stuff. Wheeler has been healthy for two seasons while maintaining a big heater and compelling peripherals. He threw 195 1/3 innings in 2019, which is quite a sum in this day and age. That’s a good sign for a pitcher who battled through health problems before a bounceback ’18 campaign. And it seems teams are taking the view that his 2019 ERA (3.96) doesn’t fully reflect his true talent level.
So how much is too much for a pitcher with Wheeler’s history of arm issues and less-than-perfect platform season? That’s what we may soon find out. But in thinking through his value, it’s worth recalling the broader market situation.
In terms of supply, Wheeler occupies an interesting position. He’s clearly not to the level of Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, but arguably possesses a much loftier ceiling — with a combination of premium stuff and relative youth — than any of the other available starters. Teams not interested in approaching or exceeding the $200MM level of spending have understandably zeroed in on Wheeler as a potential budget ace. And there’s no shortage of organizations with conceivable interest. Multiple big-spending contenders are chasing top arms along with the teams listed above.