- Left-hander Pat Dean announced on Instagram this week that he’s returning to the Twins organization on a minor league contract after spending the 2017-18 seasons pitching for the Kia Tigers of the Korea Baseball Organization. Originally a third-round pick back in 2010, Dean ascended to the Majors with the Twins as a 26-year-old in 2016 but was hit hard; in 67 1/3 innings, Dean was tagged for a 6.28 ERA with 6.7 K/9 against 3.1 BB/9. That represents his only MLB experience to date, though Dean does have a lifetime 3.50 ERA in 306 1/3 innings at the Triple-A level. Dean had a solid first season in the hitter-friendly KBO before struggling to a 6.26 ERA there in his second season. He’ll give the Twins some left-handed depth in the upper minors — be it as a starter or reliever.
The Twins have reportedly inked catcher/first baseman Wilin Rosario to a minors deal, with Roberto Carlos Feble seemingly first to tweet the news. It comes with a MLB spring invite, per Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN (Twitter link).
After running out of opportunities with the Rockies, Rosario took his slugging talents to Asia for the past three seasons. He thrived as a power-hitting first baseman in the KBO for two years before landing in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball in 2018. He struggled there, however, producing a meager .242/.285/.374 slash in 302 plate appearances.
Rosario remains most notable for his pop, which is significant enough largely to make up for his on-base deficiencies — or, perhaps more accurately, that was the case when he was still considered capable of serving behind the dish. Unfortunately, Rosario never impressed defensively as a backstop, so he’s now mostly limited to playing first base or serving as a DH. He’ll have to do better than his lifetime MLB 98 OPS+ if he hopes to carve out a role at the game’s highest level. Rosario turns thirty later this month.
As star closer Craig Kimbrel continues to wait for a new contract, Dan Hayes of The Athletic raised the notion recently (subscription link) that the Twins could position themselves as a landing spot. Kimbrel has reportedly been seeking a five-year deal, though Hayes reports the Twins would only be interested in a shorter-term pact with a high annual value. As Hayes explores, the Twins’ recent but failed bid for Yasmani Grandal suggests that they’re willing to make a run at players they deem to be unique assets in the market. None of that is a declaration that Minnesota is actively pursuing Kimbrel at the moment, but the connection is still of some note.
Were Kimbrel to take a contract of three or fewer years, it’s fair to speculate that he’d look to topple the $17.33MM annual value record for a reliever — currently held by the Rockies’ Wade Davis. Recent comments from Twins baseball ops leaders Derek Falvey and Thad Levine largely downplayed the possibility of any marquee addition to the roster, and Kimbrel would see enhanced interest from more than just Minnesota if his asking price dipped to three or fewer years. With a 2019 payroll that currently checks in more than $20MM south of last season’s Opening Day mark and zero guaranteed contracts in 2020, the Twins arguably have the most financial flexibility of any team in baseball, though that hardly means they should be expected to make a big free-agent splash.
More out of Minnesota…
- Speaking of the Twins’ interest in Grandal, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN/SKOR North reported in a recent podcast episode (Twins talk starts around 11:50 mark) that Minnesota was willing to go to three years at a total of $13-15MM per season in order to bring Grandal aboard. Grandal’s camp, however, told the Twins quickly and definitively that he wasn’t interested in signing there. Given that Grandal landed one state over in Wisconsin, it’s unlikely that geography played much of a role, so perhaps signing with a clearer contender was a priority. Since signing, Grandal has also spoken about the emphasis he placed on finding an annual value commensurate with the game’s top catchers. It’s rare to see a player turn down three or four years (the latter reportedly offered by the Mets) in order to receive an AAV boost of this size, but every player is wired differently, and Grandal may simply be more open to risk than most. If he has a strong 2019, he could come out ahead next offseason when he won’t have a qualifying offer hanging over his head.
- While the Kimbrel scenario may not be all that realistic for Twins fans, Minnesota is still looking to add a reliever, tweets MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. Right-hander Ryan Madson is among the players Minnesota is considering as the team looks to further deepen its ’pen, Heyman notes. Madson logged 52 2/3 innings with 9.2 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 1.20 HR/9 and a 42.6 percent ground-ball rate in 2018 — solid secondary numbers that generally look more appealing than his 5.47 ERA. Beyond that, Madson’s velocity actually improved over its 2017 levels, as he averaged 95.9 mph on his four-seamer and 95.4 mph on his sinker, per Statcast. Madson also posted a 13.9 percent swinging-strike rate that was his best since returning from a three-year injury absence in 2015. The 38-year-old was used heavily in the postseason by the Dodgers and looked to wear down in the World Series after strong showings in the NLDS and NLCS. However, he posted an intriguing 31-to-5 K/BB ratio from the All-Star break through the completion of the World Series and figures to come at an affordable rate.
- Meanwhile, Wolfson tweets that the Twins have both Madson and righty Bud Norris on their radar. However, he notes that the Twins have also been hoping to add relievers on minor league contracts, and it doesn’t seem likely that either Madson or Norris would be amenable to such a deal at this juncture. Norris worked to a 3.59 ERA 10.5 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 1.25 HR/9 and a 42.6 percent ground-ball rate in 57 2/3 innings with the Cardinals last season.
8:07pm: The Associated Press reports that Perez’s contract has a $7.5MM option for a second season that comes with a $500K buyout, bringing his actual guarantee to $4MM.
Furthermore, MLBTR has learned that Perez will earn an additional $100K for reaching each of 135, 145, 155, 165 and 175 innings pitched. His option value would rise to $8MM if he reaches 170 innings and to $8.5MM upon reaching 180 innings.
Jan. 30, 5:34pm: The Twins have announced the signing.
Jan. 19, 5:04pm: Perez’s deal is worth approximately $3.5MM, Jon Heyman of MLB Network tweets.
Perez, 27, appeared in parts of seven seasons with the Rangers, posting a career 4.63 ERA/4.44 FIP/4.51 xFIP in 761 1/3 IP. A once-prized farmhand under the guiding hand of former Rangers assistant GM (and current Twins GM) Thad Levine, Perez dealt with an assortment of injuries during his tenure with the club, and never quite fulfilled the tantalizing bat-missing potential he displayed in the minors. Perez’s 5.46 K/9 ranks as one of the league’s lowest during that span, and it isn’t much offset by a career 3.19 BB/9, which swelled to 3.80 in 2018.
Perez, though, has long hung his hat on his knack for inducing the ground ball. Indeed, his 50.9% career grounder rate places 12th among all starters with at least 700 IP from 2012-18, aided in large part by a heavy sinker that hasn’t much slowed down despite recent-season struggles. His worm-burning tendencies, too, have helped him keep the ball in play – a 0.96 career HR/9 (even with last season’s 1.69 homer-per-nine anomaly) ranks, when adjusting for the homer-happy confines of Arlington’s Globe Life Park, as one of the league’s best of the decade, and should play very well within a park around which the club has a tailored a lineup rife with right-handed power.
2018 was an awful one for Perez, as the lefty posted career worsts in walk rate, HR/9, ERA (6.22) and FIP (5.72). He was demoted to the bullpen in late summer, where he still struggled with command, eventually making his $7.5MM option a foregone rejection. Both Steamer and ZiPS though, remain mostly on board, with the former projecting a 4.48 FIP and the latter a 4.51, each of which rated around league-average in the decidedly hitter-friendly environs of Texas.
Perez will join a rotation that includes Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi, and the rehabbing Michael Pineda, and figures to have inside track for the rotation’s fifth and final spot at current. Lefties Stephen Gonsalves and Adalberto Mejia will contend, and the club could also look to Zack Littell, Kohl Stewart, or Fernando Romero, should injuries surface.
The Twins announced Wednesday that they’ve designated right-hander Chase De Jong for assignment. The move clears a spot on the 40-man roster for left-hander Martin Perez, whose signing is now official.
Minnesota originally acquired De Jong, 25, in the trade that sent left-handed reliever Zach Duke to the Mariners last summer. De Jong made four starts for the Twins down the stretch, pitching to a 3.57 ERA with a 13-to-6 K/BB ratio in that time. While that performance was respectable, though, De Jong has a shakier track record in the upper minors (4.97 ERA, 7.2 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 1.4 HR/9 in 128 2/3 Triple-A innings) and was hit hard in a slightly larger sample with the Mariners a year prior. The Twins, surely, will hope to sneak him through outright waivers and retain him as a non-40-man-roster depth option if there’s no interest in him on the trade front now that he’s been designated.
Right-hander Dillon Gee took to Instagram on Monday evening to announce that after a professional career that spanned more than a decade and included parts of eight MLB seasons and a season in Japan, he is retiring from the game.
Gee, who’ll turn 33 in April, spent the 2018 season with the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball but, prior to that, appeared in eight consecutive MLB seasons with the Mets, Royals, Rangers and Twins.
Gee’s most prominent role came with the Mets, his original organization, from the 2011-14 seasons, during which he was largely a fixture in the team’s rotation. Gee appeared in 101 games, 98 of them starts, across that four-year stretch and gave the Mets a fairly steady stream of reliable innings. While he was oft overshadowed by a series of vaunted arms who were emerging on the scene around that same time (e.g. Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler), Gee turned in 606 2/3 innings of 4.01 ERA ball in that four-year period.
Unfortunately, as is the case with so many pitchers, injuries took their toll on Gee following that run. Gee dealt with a blood clot that required surgery in 2012 and perhaps even more detrimentally underwent the dreaded thoracic outlet surgery following the 2016 season. He’d go on to return with better results than many TOS patients, pitching to a 3.47 ERA through 49 1/3 innings between the Rangers and Twins in 2017, though that also proved to be his last MLB action.
In all, Gee will retire with a career 51-48 record, a 4.09 ERA, 6.5 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and 1.2 HR/9 over the life of 853 2/3 Major League innings. Though he’ll retire at a relatively young age, Gee still did quite well for himself in baseball, taking home north of $13MM in player salaries — a sum that most 21st-round selections can scarcely fathom.
In fact, the 30-year-old Olt is coming off the third straight season in which he failed to appear at the game’s highest level, having spent all of 2016 in the Padres’ minor league system and both ’17 and ’18 in the high minors with the Red Sox. Before that, he received MLB time with the Rangers and both Chicago teams from 2012-15, during which he batted just .168/.250/.330 in 400 plate appearances.
Olt’s subpar major league performance has been all the more disappointing given that he was a first-round pick of the Rangers in 2010 and a former top-50 prospect, though unfortunate vision problems seemingly changed his career trajectory. To Olt’s credit, he has performed well at the Triple-A level, where he has slashed .254/.355/.464 with 115 home runs in 2,765 PAs. He went to the plate 279 times with Boston’s top affiliate in 2018 and hit .224/.357/.430 with 11 homers.
Young Twins hurler Fernando Romero is one of several of the club’s pitchers who could end up in a variety of roles when camp breaks, Phil Miller of the Star Tribune writes. While the rotation appears to be largely settled, perhaps it’s not out of the question that he could force his way into a job there — or, of course, take an opening if there’s an injury. Otherwise, Romero could certainly head back to Triple-A to continue developing and serve as depth. Most intriguingly, though, is the possibility that he’d stay with the MLB club as a reliever. While there’s an argument to be made that doing so now might make it less likely to capture his true upside, the Twins see several elements that make Romero a particularly interesting relief candidate. His prior injury history is one element; it also stands to reason that he’d thrive if allowed to focus on his two best pitches (fastball/slider) in shorter stints. The front office still seems to be contemplating the possibilities — closer competitor? multi-inning piggyback mate for Martin Perez? — with plans to wait and see how things look in Fort Myers.
- Having signed Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop, Blake Parker and Martin Perez this offseason, the Twins may not make any more notable strikes in free agency. Regardless, the Twins are hopeful they’ll be able to lock up some of their in-house talent for the foreseeable future, GM Thad Levine revealed Sunday (via Betsy Helfand of the Pioneer Press). “Without getting into names, we’re actively having some of those conversations behind the scenes and we as a club would like nothing more than to be able to announce one, two, three of those types of extensions at some point here in spring training,” Levine said. Speculatively speaking, some of the Twins’ extension candidates may include Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson and Jake Odorizzi. Minnesota did try to lock up Buxton, Rosario, Kepler and Berrios a year ago, though the former went on to endure a nightmarish season that ended in contentious fashion.
Michael Pineda has yet to throw a pitch for the Twins, but he’s healthy now and ready to make his Twins debut in 2019, per Betsy Helfand of the Twin Cities Pioneer Press. The Twins signed Pineda to a two-year, $10MM guarantee last December as he worked his way back from Tommy John surgery, hoping he might be ready for the latter half of the season. Just when it looked like Pineda was ready to return, he was diagnosed with a torn meniscus in his knee, ending his season before it began. Injuries have been a constant for Pineda’s career, though he did put together back-to-back healthy campaigns for the Yankees in 2015 and 2016. His overall 4.05 ERA is boosted by a particularly strong rookie campaign, but across 680 innings in Seattle and New York, he did turn in 9.1 K/9 to 2.1 BB/9. The Twins are perhaps the most wait-and-see team in the league, with many volatile assets equally capable of All-Star seasons and bottoming out (Pineda, Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Jonathan Schoop, among others). With no guaranteed money on the books for 2020, recent speculation has Minnesota as a sleeper team for either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, but Thad Levine threw some water on that idea, as he believes significant acquisitions of that variety are more appropriate for frontrunners atop a division, rather than a young team on the rise, per MLB.com’s Do-Hyoung Park (via Twitter). Certainly an interesting take from the Minnesota GM. Now, some more recovery news from around the league…
- The Brewers will return an intriguing arm to their rotation this spring, as Jimmy Nelson is healthy and ready to go, per Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (via Twitter). Nelson will have no restrictions heading into Spring Training, and he’s not backing down from high expectations either, making clear his goal to get the nod on Opening Day – unlikely as that may be. Nelson put together an impressive campaign in 2017 that launched him to the top of the Milwaukee rotation, but it’s probably best to temper expectations after a torn labrum took his 2018. For Milwaukee, the tide is turning on what was seen as a rickety rotation leading up to the playoffs, as their starting staff now looks to be a source of potential strength. Jhoulys Chacin made himself irreplaceable in their run to the NLCS, and he’s backed by Zach Davies and Chase Anderson, both rebound candidates after subpar seasons. Add Nelson, Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, among others, as contenders to join what now looks like a high-ceiling and deep, if unstable, unit.
- Rosiak also notes (via Twitter) that prospects Keston Hiura and Mauricio Dubon are ready for a big year, rested in the former’s case and healthy after ACL surgery in the latter’s. While both will return to big league camp this spring, they’ve been told they won’t be with the team on Opening Day, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt (via Twitter). None of this should come as a surprise, as it’s become the norm for top prospects to begin their debut seasons in Triple A, but it’s safe to say Hiura, at least, is hopeful to make an impact at the ML level sometime in 2019. Dubon, for his part, was ripping through Triple A before the surgery, hitting .343/.348/.574 in 27 games with Colorado Springs.
- Corey Seager hasn’t taken batting practice since his injury last May, but he’s long-tossing in preparation for an important spring back in the middle of the Dodgers infield, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register. Seager isn’t yet mobilizing for groundballs or throwing across the diamond, but his recovery from Tommy John surgery has gone according to plan thus far and hope remains that he’ll be ready by Opening Day. He’s hitting off a tee, with the next steps being batting practice in the cage before going against live pitching. The Dodgers have the depth to cover for Seager if he’s not ready by Opening Day – with Chris Taylor the most likely stand-in – but he’s obviously a huge part of their team moving forward.
- The Royals fanbase is still waiting for the long-heralded debut of former top draft choice Kyle Zimmer, but it seems nearly time after he signed a major league contract this winter, per the Kansas City Star’ s Lynn Worthy. Zimmer was the 5th overall pick of the 2012 draft, but he missed the entirety of 2018 while training at the Driveline Baseball pitching program. Even so, he was clocked in the mid-90s this fall, and the Royals weren’t alone in competing for Zimmer’s services, hence the major league contract. Said GM Dayton Moore of the deal, “I would rather have him fail with us than go somewhere else and succeed.” While that’s not exactly a rousing sentiment, and it could be read as vindictive, that does not appear to be Moore’s intent, who praised Zimmer for his mindset and toughness. For Zimmer’s part, he spoke glowingly of the Royals longstanding support and loyalty in his continued journey to toe a major league rubber. If he can stay healthy, there’s opportunity enough for Zimmer to make his debut at Kauffman Stadium sometime in 2019, and despite Moore’s omission of Zimmer’s potential success with the Royals as one of his potential futures, that’s surely the goal for both parties.