Constructing Pitching Staff Will Become a Numbers Game
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel, USA TodayHere in mid-December, the Twins have the following pitchers written onto next year's Opening Day roster in ink, more or less: Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda, Trevor May, Taylor Rogers, Addison Reed. I would consider Trevor Hildenberger close to a lock, so long as he doesn't look like a total mess in spring training. That's eight members of a 12-man (possibly 13-man) staff.
So the mission here seems clear, right? Add four more pitchers via free agency or trade – probably one starter and three relievers – and you're all set.
It's not quite that simple.
While I certainly think the Twins need to add more, and will, there are a few considerations that should be kept in mind as they attack the open market.
* The 40-man roster is full. Any new addition on a major-league contract will require the Twins to drop one of their existing players. You might argue that's not the biggest deterrent, considering there are a number candidates for removal on the current roster (I marked nine that I would consider to be "at-risk" below) but it's something to note.
* Adalberto Mejia is out of options next year. So is Matt Magill, but I don't think the Twins are too concerned about losing him. Mejia is the kind of arm a rebuilding team needs to hold onto. In 2017 he threw fairly well for Minnesota as a rookie, posting a 4.50 ERA in 21 starts (he also put up a 2.83 ERA in six starts at Rochester). This year he was hampered by injuries but still turned in a 2.01 ERA in five outings for the Twins, and 3.27 over 63 innings at Triple-A.
The left-hander has consistently performed since coming over to the Twins, with solid stuff to match. He doesn't turn 26 until next June. I'd go so far as to say that Mejia should be assured a spot as much as the "locks" I listed above, and if you're open to using him as a starter (or perhaps more fittingly a primary), then boom, you've got your rotation completed.
* Fernando Romero deserves his shot. He isn't out of options yet, but will be in 2020, so the Twins need to get him settled in a big-league role. You could send him back to Triple-A to start the year but it feels kinda pointless – Romero showed he belonged during an MLB debut this year, and offers more upside than almost anyone else in the mix. I've argued that it might be best to bring him along as a multi-inning fireman reliever.
* Andrew Vasquez decimates left-handed hitters. You might feel inclined to find a lefty specialist on the open market, with top bullpen southpaw Taylor Rogers serving in more of a matchup-agnostic setup role. But then again, you might already have that piece on hand in Vasquez, who was added to the 40-man roster during the season in advance of his Rule 5 eligibility, getting a taste of the majors in September.
In 69 total innings last year Vasquez held left hitters to a .196/.274/.235 line over 114 PA, with a 38% strikeout rate. The prior year, same-sided batters went .200/.297/.200 against him, managing zero extra-base hits in 75 PA.
There's always risk in going with a relatively untested and inexperienced option, but Vasquez is the kind of effective, inexpensive role-filler that can really be an asset to a team like the Twins.
* Pitching staffs are fundamentally transforming. Like it or not, the rigid designations of "starter" and "reliever" are fading in today's game. Using openers, and piggybacking starters, should both be concepts in play as you assemble the staff – as should flexibility in the ninth inning.
This can help guide your strategy. For instance, if you do end up going with a rotation featuring five right-handers, you might want an extra southpaw reliever that you could plug in for the first inning against a lefty-heavy lineup. Or maybe you want to plan on trying to get 3-4 innings apiece from Mejia and Kohl Stewart every fifth day. With an open-minded approach, there are a lot of options and possibilities.
* The rotation lacks continuity going forward. Three of Minnesota's expected starters – Gibson, Odorizzi and Pineda, will be free agents after next season. In terms of rotation members that the Twins can comfortably count on past 2019, Berrios pretty much starts and ends the list. So the quest for rotation help this offseason shouldn't necessarily be limited to short-term commitments. A multi-year deal would make a lot of sense... if it's the right guy.
- Danchat, DocBauer, nytwinsfan and 5 others like this