Best Remaining No-Risk Starters on the Free Agent Market
Image courtesy of Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports (Clay Buchholz)The Twins haven't signed a starting pitcher of note this offseason, and haven't really been connected to any via rumors. It's becoming apparent the front office is comfortable with a rotation of Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda and Adalberto Mejia. That's rational. The first four are clearly viable, and Mejia's out of options. (I wouldn't be surprised if Mejia operated as a "primary pitcher" behind an opener. In fact, it'd surprise me if he didn't.)
What's needed now is depth. They've got some with Fernando Romero, Stephen Gonsalves, Chase De Jong and others. But they need experience behind the top five. And the way to get it, without having to commit a 40-man spot or guaranteed salary, is a minor-league contract plus spring training invite.
With a sizable pool of free agents remaining, and serious question marks attached to many of them, plenty of starters should be available on non-guaranteed deals. The Twins are in good position to attract such players, offering ample opportunity (Mejia's grip on the fifth job isn't exactly ironclad).
Here are six starting pitchers who may end up having to settle for minor-league contracts, and look like potential good fits for the Twins:
Clay Buchholz, RHP (34)
Buchholz is, to me, exactly the type of pitcher Minnesota should be targeting. He's a talented arm whose only risk point is health. Granted, it's a considerable risk point – he's thrown only 105 total innings over the past two years, and his 2018 ended with a worrisome flexor strain – but before he went down he had a 2.01 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 16 starts for Arizona, and his career numbers are rock solid. If he comes into camp healthy and looking good, he's probably the team's best fifth starter option. If he proves to be damaged goods, nothing hurt.
Marco Estrada, RHP (35)
From 2015-16, Estrada was a fantastic pitcher, posting a 3.30 ERA and 1.08 WHIP over 357 innings in the power-packed AL East. In each season he was one of the stingiest starters in the league when it came to allowing hits. He's fallen off over the past two years (5.27 ERA, 1.40 WHIP) and is hitting the market with his stock way down after posting a 7.17 post-break ERA in 2018. While not always healthy, he's been durable enough to throw 128+ innings every year since 2012. Estrada would be nice to have around in the event of a spring training injury in the rotation.
Drew Hutchison, RHP (28)
Once upon a time, Hutchison was considered a premier young pitching talent in the game, debuting at age 21 for Toronto after rocketing through the minors. The righty has snuffed out most of his own intrigue through many seasons of poor performance and injuries, but preserved enough to get chances with three different teams in 2018. He's only 28 and would be an interesting low-risk camp project for new pitching coach Wes Johnson.
Chris Tillman, RHP (30)
Similar deal here. Tillman hasn't shown many promising signs over the past two seasons (8.42 ERA in 120 innings) but from 2012 through 2016 he put up a 3.81 ERA for the Orioles while rarely missing a start. He might be cooked, but what if he's not? What if Wes could help him turn it around?
Josh Tomlin, RHP (34)
Ken Rosenthal reported last week that the Mets were interested in Tomlin on a non-roster deal, but nothing has come to fruition as of yet. If he doesn't go to New York he'd be a logical target for Minnesota, given the Derek Falvey connection (Tomlin has spent the last nine years in Cleveland). The right-hander was brutal last year, and at his best he's merely an average MLB starter, but as a strike-throwing fly ball pitcher he could benefit from the Twins defense.
Ervin Santana, RHP (36)
Reunion? Red Sox reporter Chris Cotillo relayed a month ago that Santana was "drawing widespread interest" but "more likely to sign when he feels he is fully healthy later in winter." Presumably he'll put on a showcase within the next month, and if he looks good he might get a big-league deal. If not, he'd make sense for Minnesota. His 2018 was a loss, but we saw how good Santana could be during the balance of his time here. He would infuse veteran familiarity. Then again, this bridge might be burnt after sourness emerged toward the front office late last season.
There are plenty of other starters on the market who could land on minor-league deals, including Bartolo Colon, Yovani Gallardo, James Shields and Martin Perez. Any of these names interest you? Or do you still feel the club should aim higher on a guaranteed big-league contract?
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