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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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Hosken Bombo Disco
Jan 12 2019 03:18 PM

 

I'm not seeing what's overly complex about this.

Ok, so in spring training Tillman comes in, looks fit, good attitude, but after a few spring training outings, isn't getting results. 

 

Then what?

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Nick Nelson
Jan 12 2019 04:59 PM

 

Ok, so in spring training Tillman comes in, looks fit, good attitude, but after a few spring training outings, isn't getting results. 

 

Then what?

Then you give him the option to head to Triple-A, or opt-out and become a free agent again. These kinds of arrangements take place almost every spring. (IF you don't need him anyway because others aren't ready/healthy.)

 

It's a game of musical chairs and someone like Tillman doesn't have a ton of leverage. Compared to other destinations, Minnesota is an attractive destination. No one has a firm grasp on the Twins' final rotation spot, and Pineda is penciled in despite throwing zero MLB innings last year.  

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sweetmusicviola16
Jan 12 2019 05:15 PM

 

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

To me the downside is these guys pitch to their career mediocreness and tie up a roster spot. In the meantime we still don't know what we have in the Stewart's and Gonsalves's.

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sweetmusicviola16
Jan 12 2019 05:18 PM

I also doubt that Clay Buchholtz is willing to sign an milb deal at this point either. 

    • Otwins likes this

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

Then what?


Ash and Nick pretty much answered, but my take is simple.

If the guy rebounds and looks surprisingly good, you've added another solid option for the rotation and you've added depth, depth to the pen where Mejia and Romero could both help.

If said guy doesn't flash, he goes to Rochester to continue to work while off the 40 man. He can still be released or opt out.

If, at whatever point, said signee looks good, there is the option to trade him, or anyone else, to bring in another asset or two.

All you are doing is bringing in a flier to see if you get lucky and build depth and possibilities.
    • Otwins and howieramone2 like this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Jan 12 2019 05:53 PM

To me the downside is these guys pitch to their career mediocreness and tie up a roster spot.

Exactly.
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Jan 12 2019 06:22 PM

Then you give him the option to head to Triple-A, or opt-out and become a free agent again. These kinds of arrangements take place almost every spring. (IF you don't need him anyway because others aren't ready/healthy.)
 
It's a game of musical chairs and someone like Tillman doesn't have a ton of leverage. Compared to other destinations, Minnesota is an attractive destination. No one has a firm grasp on the Twins' final rotation spot, and Pineda is penciled in despite throwing zero MLB innings last year.

Fair enough. I can't disagree with any of that, really. I guess I'd rather see them add to the top or middle of the rotation, and push everyone else down a spot, than add another guy to compete for the back end.
    • Carole Keller likes this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Jan 12 2019 06:27 PM

Ash and Nick pretty much answered, but my take is simple.
If the guy rebounds and looks surprisingly good, you've added another solid option for the rotation and you've added depth, depth to the pen where Mejia and Romero could both help.
If said guy doesn't flash, he goes to Rochester to continue to work while off the 40 man. He can still be released or opt out.
If, at whatever point, said signee looks good, there is the option to trade him, or anyone else, to bring in another asset or two.
All you are doing is bringing in a flier to see if you get lucky and build depth and possibilities.

Fair enough. Identifying the right guy is only half the battle. I'd rather see them add to the top of the rotation, or do something impactful with the young pitchers with options they already have. If that means a stacker or opener/primary, so be it (if it works :) ). They must have enough data on their pitchers by now to exploit certain matchups and put them in better spots for them to succeed.
Great pitcher, or see what the youth can actually do. That's my preference.
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ashburyjohn
Jan 12 2019 08:13 PM

To me the downside is these guys pitch to their career mediocreness and tie up a roster spot. In the meantime we still don't know what we have in the Stewart's and Gonsalves's.

Nothing about a MiLB deal obligates the team to do anything. I think the concern being expressed is about the front office not having the discipline to leave the spare tire in the trunk if none of the tires on the ground are running flat. And maybe, given past experience, that's a fair concern. But a signing itself, if one does occur, shouldn't be.

    • Nick Nelson, lecroy24fan, diehardtwinsfan and 5 others like this

To me the downside is these guys pitch to their career mediocreness and tie up a roster spot. In the meantime we still don't know what we have in the Stewart's and Gonsalves's.

there will be lots of innings for starters 6-8 in the big league rotation, but agreed. Pineda is the reclamation project and nothing is certain with him.

Now is the time to improve the middle of the rotation (trade for Gray or sign Gio) or go with what you got for the back.

Not much in the way of exciting pitchers on that list, although if they got Dallas Keuchel.or Gio Gonzalez on a 1-year deal that wouldn't be such an awful thing. And I like the Martin Perez idea that Chris floated. But if the Twins are truly serious about contending in 2019 I think they need to aim higher and trade for someone like Greinke or maybe even take a chance on Sonny Gray rebounding away from New York. I just don't think we can depend on Pineda as a solid rotation piece at this point, at least not until he shows that he's healthy and durable.

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killertwinfan
Jan 13 2019 07:17 AM

Yes totally agree unless you can get them super cheap. However thekeyword "closer" for me.I have not hear anyone writers or other talk about a closer.What do people think will happen? Committee?

Mejia is a viable option when healthy.I like him better than any of these options.

 

Grab a closer instead.

 

The only problem I have with these "no risk" "minor league deals" with MLB veterans is it seems they always make the roster with the Twins.

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howieramone2
Jan 13 2019 12:31 PM

 

To me the downside is these guys pitch to their career mediocreness and tie up a roster spot. In the meantime we still don't know what we have in the Stewart's and Gonsalves's.

If Stewart and/or Gonsalves are ready, these guys don't get a roster spot. When they are ready, you cut these guy. It's not that difficult a concept. The Yankees just made a move like this. Sanchez is a good example. He was the first starting pitcher we signed last off-season, on a very low risk deal and the board had kittens. When we got Odorizzi and Lynn, he was gone within 30 days.

FWIW, Sanchez took a 40-man spot last offseason when he was signed. It was a "split contract" that would have paid less in the minors than in MLB, but it wasn't a minor league deal.

Also, it's unclear if the Twins would have been able to get a successful season from Sanchez. Although he would have been a nice alternative to try once he was healthly in June -- but so was Mejia and we passed on using him until our season was more or less out of hand...
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Nick Nelson
Jan 13 2019 02:36 PM

 

The only problem I have with these "no risk" "minor league deals" with MLB veterans is it seems they always make the roster with the Twins.

I understand this inclination, but I think it's outdated. Has that happened with this current front office? Last year they brought in Erick Aybar for a look but ended up cutting him, even with the Polanco suspension. In 2017 they brought in Ryan Vogelsong and Nick Tepesch, but picked a rookie Adalberto Mejia over both. 

    • ashburyjohn and ChrisKnutson like this

 

I understand this inclination, but I think it's outdated. Has that happened with this current front office? Last year they brought in Erick Aybar for a look but ended up cutting him, even with the Polanco suspension. In 2017 they brought in Ryan Vogelsong and Nick Tepesch, but picked a rookie Adalberto Mejia over both. 

Yeah, if they are just bringing them in with nothing guaranteed, then I'm all for it.

I understand this inclination, but I think it's outdated. Has that happened with this current front office? Last year they brought in Erick Aybar for a look but ended up cutting him, even with the Polanco suspension. In 2017 they brought in Ryan Vogelsong and Nick Tepesch, but picked a rookie Adalberto Mejia over both.


They couldn't keep them because they were waisting a spot on a rule 5 pick.
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Crackedfungo
Jan 13 2019 05:09 PM
Meh. Just.....no.