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Best Remaining No-Risk Starters on the Free Agent Market

As we march into mid-January, with spring training suddenly only weeks away, the Twins' roster is coming into focus. Through various avenues, they've supplemented both the offense and the bullpen.

If they are to address the rotation, it's looking less likely they'll do so through a major-league contract. That doesn't necessarily rule out an interesting addition though.
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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95 Comments

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TheLeviathan
Jan 11 2019 03:57 PM

 

They're not blocking spots. That's the whole point! You don't have to remove anyone from the 40-man roster to add them, and you're not beholden to them in any way. The only way one of these guys beats out a Mejia is if they convince you they're clearly better options. 

 

I'm pro-Mejia. I want to see him in that fifth starter role. That's why I don't really want anyone on an MLB deal. But failing to equip yourself with feasible backup options is malpractice. 

 

We have seen this happen too often with the Twins for me to welcome it.Either go get a player with upside (Sonny Gray!Sonny Gray!) or go in-house.  

 

Our depth in the rotation doesn't look all that different than the OF, 3B, or middle infield.In all of those cases, just like this one, I'd rather have the next man up be a youngster with promise than some roster filler.

    • diehardtwinsfan, Danchat, Sconnie and 2 others like this
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sweetmusicviola16
Jan 11 2019 04:08 PM

If we aren't going to sign a Keuchel or Gio Gonzalez type and we aren't, then we should be seeing what we have in these younger arms. Because sadly after 2019 we will be left with a rotation of Berrios, ?, ?, ?, ?.

 

Very likely Gibson, Odorizzi and Pineda will all be gone before or after this season ends. We have awful future depth looking us square in the eyes.

    • Mike Sixel, beckmt, TheLeviathan and 1 other like this

 

I would like to see the Twins go after Gio Gonzalez -- Gio usually gives his team a chance to win the game.  

Plus, he was a sleeper I picked up for my fantasy team a few seasons ago- and he was a HOSS! :-)

I can't think of one reason they need an old player in AAA. Plenty of young players need time. They have three veterans already.
    • sweetmusicviola16 likes this
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Aerodeliria
Jan 11 2019 09:21 PM
I'm not Santana fan at all.

 

I like Mejia as #5.But rather than using an opener, why not give the bullpen the day off and stack Romero with him.Let Mejia go 4-5 and bring in Romero to close the game with another 4-5.Would keep Romero's innings down to say 130-140 which works with previous year's work loads.

 

So.... 6 "starters"??? Not enough 25-man roster space.

    • USAFChief likes this

 

I can't think of one reason they need an old player in AAA. Plenty of young players need time. They have three veterans already.

 

I can think of more than one reason.... three reasons... in the case where the three veterans all go down via injury, suspension, traded away, inability to immediately bounce back (Pineda),etc...

plus a couple more,

in that, at least two youngsters are likely on a limited innings schedule. It's short-handed the Twins in the middle months before, forcing them to call upon some embarrassing options- in all-but-obvious pre-forfeiture games. Besides, how many different SPs have the Twins used in the last 2 seasons??? Probably around 25, right? Unpredictable things do happen.

 

As much as I'm fully with you on getting these young arms their IPs, buying one (or two) veteran insurance policies on minor league deals is prudent, especially if the FO is making a legitimate run for a post-season berth.

 

 

 

    • Vanimal46 likes this
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Original Whizzinator
Jan 12 2019 09:19 AM

If we aren't going to sign a Keuchel or Gio Gonzalez type and we aren't, then we should be seeing what we have in these younger arms. Because sadly after 2019 we will be left with a rotation of Berrios, ?, ?, ?, ?.
 
Very likely Gibson, Odorizzi and Pineda will all be gone before or after this season ends. We have awful future depth looking us square in the eyes.

Another reason to extend Gibby! Extend him!
    • rdehring likes this

 

They're not blocking spots. That's the whole point! You don't have to remove anyone from the 40-man roster to add them, and you're not beholden to them in any way. The only way one of these guys beats out a Mejia is if they convince you they're clearly better options. 

 

I'm pro-Mejia. I want to see him in that fifth starter role. That's why I don't really want anyone on an MLB deal. But failing to equip yourself with feasible backup options is malpractice. 

If you want to sign either of those guys to a minor league contract, may have to wait until just before spring training or during spring training.Those guys will probably wait until close to spring training to take a minor league deal.

You still have about 5 starters that have pitched in the major leagues last year, most are ticketed for Rochester.Would hate to wait until next year to see what we have, because next year you will almost certainly need 2 - 3 of them.

    • sweetmusicviola16 likes this

 

Another reason to extend Gibby! Extend him!

No! NO!!! NOO!!!!

Gibby is on the wrong side of 30 and when he loses a 1 or 2 off his fastball, he will be quite hittable.If you want this route, tag him at the end of the year.Much safer route and you get some compensation if he leaves (and you can do this to more than one starter if you are worried).  

    • ChrisKnutson likes this
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ChrisKnutson
Jan 12 2019 10:26 AM
With all the success that the FO has had in the draft, IMO I think they can afford to give up one prospect in order to sign Keuchel. Also, I don’t see why teams are so hesitant about giving him 5 years, as if he’s declining, it’s not like his velocity has dropped that much, if at all.
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sweetmusicviola16
Jan 12 2019 11:09 AM

 

If you want to sign either of those guys to a minor league contract, may have to wait until just before spring training or during spring training.Those guys will probably wait until close to spring training to take a minor league deal.

You still have about 5 starters that have pitched in the major leagues last year, most are ticketed for Rochester.Would hate to wait until next year to see what we have, because next year you will almost certainly need 2 - 3 of them.

Exactly beck, it could even be 4 depending upon how Mejia fares as an every turn ML SP.

 

I just don't get it. By not signing anyone to long-term deals for these past 3-4 off seasons they are backing themselves into a corner. 2019 is the time to find out if any of our depth is worth counting on for the future.

 

Awful job of developing by this org and an even worse job of turning excess minor league talent into usable ML assets. The Odorizzi deal is the type I refer to. I'm not a huge Odor fan but we should be seeing more of these when we are in avoidance of giving out long-term FA deals.

    • ken and Battle ur tail off like this
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jorgenswest
Jan 12 2019 11:37 AM

Exactly beck, it could even be 4 depending upon how Mejia fares as an every turn ML SP.
 
I just don't get it. By not signing anyone to long-term deals for these past 3-4 off seasons they are backing themselves into a corner. 2019 is the time to find out if any of our depth is worth counting on for the future.
 
Awful job of developing by this org and an even worse job of turning excess minor league talent into usable ML assets. The Odorizzi deal is the type I refer to. I'm not a huge Odor fan but we should be seeing more of these when we are in avoidance of giving out long-term FA deals.


Pretty sure that both the Santana and Hughes deals included control this season. Santana was 4 off seasons ago so maybe that doesn’t fit the qualifier. The Twins committed around 170 million for 14 years of Nolasco, Hughes and Santana with an option for 1 more year. The return was 3 good seasons. Lance Lynn was looking for 4 and 60 last year. Maybe we should have done that long term deal instead.
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killertwinfan
Jan 12 2019 11:57 AM

With our luck dipping into "bargain pool"or any pool when it comes to pitching, money is better spent elsewhere.Good luck to our young arms!

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sweetmusicviola16
Jan 12 2019 12:05 PM

 

Pretty sure that both the Santana and Hughes deals included control this season. Santana was 4 off seasons ago so maybe that doesn’t fit the qualifier. The Twins committed around 170 million for 14 years of Nolasco, Hughes and Santana with an option for 1 more year. The return was 3 good seasons. Lance Lynn was looking for 4 and 60 last year. Maybe we should have done that long term deal instead.

Twins got some good mileage out of that Santana deal. The original Hughes deal was good. Many foresaw that Nolasco would stink. We'll see how Lynn fares in Tx. The point is you have to take some long-term risks or you'll forever be facing what we could potentially be facing next off-season.

 

So yeah, Santana was signed in Dec of 2014. What long-term commitment has been made since? A couple one and an option and a 2 year Reed deal is about it.

    • jorgenswest likes this
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howieramone2
Jan 12 2019 12:06 PM

 

If we aren't going to sign a Keuchel or Gio Gonzalez type and we aren't, then we should be seeing what we have in these younger arms. Because sadly after 2019 we will be left with a rotation of Berrios, ?, ?, ?, ?.

 

Very likely Gibson, Odorizzi and Pineda will all be gone before or after this season ends. We have awful future depth looking us square in the eyes.

I would say it's unlikely all 3 are gone. It is likely we can pencil in 2 of Thorpe, Mejia, or Romero. 2020 is still a long ways away. 

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Nick Nelson
Jan 12 2019 12:29 PM

 

We have seen this happen too often with the Twins for me to welcome it.Either go get a player with upside (Sonny Gray!Sonny Gray!) or go in-house.  

I don't understand the mindset that it's preferable to trade a player and guarantee a roster spot (+ $9M) for Gray rather than sign one of the players listed here to a non-guaranteed deal. If Gray has upside then so do a number of these guys. He's been terrible in two of the last three seasons while averaging 130 innings.

    • lecroy24fan likes this
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howieramone2
Jan 12 2019 12:40 PM

Picking up a starting pitcher on a non-guaranteed deal is a can't lose situation. Why not.

    • lecroy24fan likes this
Barring a trade for an absolute, top of the rotation arm...which is not going to happen at this point...I am 100% all in on who we have, auditioning the kids for now and 2020, etc.

But why on earth would you turn down a veteran arm on a MILB deal with no guarantees and no 40 man spot just to see if you get lucky?
    • Twins33, Hosken Bombo Disco, ChrisKnutson and 1 other like this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Jan 12 2019 01:29 PM

 

But why on earth would you turn down a veteran arm on a MILB deal with no guarantees and no 40 man spot just to see if you get lucky?

 

Ok, so let's say the Twins sign one of those guys to a minor league deal, and hope to get lucky.

 

Then what?

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ashburyjohn
Jan 12 2019 01:55 PM

Ok, so let's say the Twins sign one of those guys to a minor league deal, and hope to get lucky.

 

Then what?

I suppose the hope would be to use such luck to balance out certain kinds of bad luck. For instance a couple of starters go on the 60-day DL during spring, and only one of the young guys is deemed ready to face major league hitting full time. With spots on the 40-man thus available, you have someone you can plug in right away; if he does well, then you have an interesting decision to make in 60 days. I believe that would be the thinking.

    • DocBauer and howieramone2 like this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Jan 12 2019 02:22 PM

Point being, and not trying to be argumentative, but someone within the Twins org identified Anibal Sanchez last spring, Twins signed him, but yet for some reason the Twins released him when someone better came along (Lance Lynn!) and Sanchez ended up in Atlanta. 

 

tl;dr it's not as simple as it seems once you make the guy an offer, bring him into camp, etc. Though I am not opposed to signing one of those guys. 

 

 

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Channing1964
Jan 12 2019 02:39 PM
Bucholz would be good...I like the idea of a couple veteran lefties to compete for that last spot and let Mejia have some company as a lefty starter. Miley, Gio Gonzalez , and Derek Holland would be good. I still think we are a back end bullpen guy away from anyone taking us seriously. If you could get Buch and one of those leftys on a minor league tryout deal I'd be happy with our rotation.
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Nick Nelson
Jan 12 2019 02:54 PM

 

Point being, and not trying to be argumentative, but someone within the Twins org identified Anibal Sanchez last spring, Twins signed him, but yet for some reason the Twins released him when someone better came along (Lance Lynn!) and Sanchez ended up in Atlanta. 

 

tl;dr it's not as simple as it seems once you make the guy an offer, bring him into camp, etc. Though I am not opposed to signing one of those guys. 

Exactly. The Twins made a mistake by pivoting away from the reclamation project and going with the "buy (relatively) high" route instead. Had they just stuck with Sanchez they'd have ended up with a nice asset on their hands. But I'm not totally sure why that anomaly of a situation has any bearing on what we're talking about here.

 

If, say, Chris Tillman comes into camp healthy, and Johnson or Hefner help him solve a few things, he could very well look like the best option for the fifth spot. This is a guy who had a 3.99 ERA in the AL East from 2014-16, and is only 30. So, in that event, you push Mejia and Romero to the bullpen and roll with him, or he fills the spot of someone else who gets hurt. I'm not seeing what's overly complex about this.


Thinking outside the box of a five man rotation. How about signing two of these FA; Bucholz & Pomeranz, and going with a FOUR day EIGHT man rotation.

1)Berrios/Gonzo
2)Gibson/Mejia
3)Odor/Bucky2
4)Pineda/Pommy

Leaving 4 or 5 spots for the bullpen

1)May
2)Rogers
3)Reed
4)Romero, longman, “starter” replacement
5)Hildy or your choice of RP with options

Each pair making 40 starts and combing for ~300 innings = 1200, leaving less than 300 for the remaining 5 bullpen spots. It would be nice to get that out of the top four mentioned. Twins could then utilize an opener(Hildy, Vasquez?) for the fifth man who can share a roster spot with a position player(Astudillo) who also has options.