Offseason Blueprint: Building a Bullpenner
- There is going to be a ton of money thrown around at the top end of the starting pitching market. Even with aggressive spending intentions, the Twins may have a hard time hanging with big-market powerhouses in the rotation bidding wars.
- The addition of a 26th major-league roster spot, starting in 2020, makes it easier to carry eight relievers at all times.
- Minnesota is already off to a head-start with the bullpen, after seeing a quality core emerge convincingly in the second half.
It all added up to 96 wins and a wild-card berth in the rough-and-tumble AL East, despite a paltry $52 million payroll. The Twins, with ample resources at hand and free rein to build upon a strong foundation, should theoretically be able to do it better.
Here's how I'm assembling a 2020 roster capable of taking the next step in October, while following a bullpen-first strategy and staying within comfortably realistic spending constraints.
1. Tender all arbitration-eligible players.
Sam Dyson is already out, but each of the nine remaining arbitration-eligible players comes back, amounting to somewhere around $35 million total.
2. Sign Jason Castro to a one-year, $6 million contract.
Pairing pitchers with the right batterymates is critical. Castro was a perfect complement for Garver this year, and he's still only 32, so a one-year reunion makes plenty of sense. Castro has an established rapport with the incumbent pitchers, and the veteran confidence to quickly build it with newcomers.
3. Sign Madison Bumgarner to a four-year, $80 million contract.
While this rotation will mostly be tailored to accommodate heavy relief usage, we do need one more horse at the top alongside Jose Berrios. Bumgarner fills that role and checks off plenty of important boxes: experience, durability, ace upside, postseason pedigree.
4. Sign RHP Jake Odorizzi to a three-year, $36 million contract.
This contract estimate, via the Offseason Handbook, works under the assumption that Odorizzi declines his qualifying offer, but finds a lukewarm market while tethered to a draft pick, and comes back to negotiate a multi-year pact. He's only 29 and coming off an All-Star season, and Odorizzi's biggest weakness (lack of length – he completed six innings in only 10 of his 30 starts) is negated by the bullpenning model.
5. Sign RHP Michael Pineda to a one-year, $10 million contract.
He looked very good before the suspension, and from the perspective of the team signing him, there are silver linings to be found in that unfortunate development. You don't have to pay for the 39 games he'll miss, and a late start means Pineda – whose workload will forever be a consideration – can keep his innings total in check, remaining strong into October. The Twins, with some young rotation depth and the ability to simply run bullpen games once a week if needed, are equipped to get by until Pineda can join at the end of May.
6. Trade OF Eddie Rosario and RHP Jordan Balazovic to Cincinnati Reds for RHP Raisel Iglesias.
"We want to be able to maximize the value of Iglesias," said Reds' president of baseball ops Dick Williams last year after signing the Cincinnati closer to a three-year contract, buying out his arbitration. What if the best way to maximize Iglesias's value is to deal him right now?
The Cuban native is a very good pitcher, with a 3.17 ERA and 10.4 K/9 rate over 388 major-league innings. He turns 30 in January. The Reds surely won't be eager to part with him, but this is a team that's finished in fourth or fifth place for six straight seasons. A great closer making $18 million over the next two years is a needless luxury for a team that can't escape the cellar.
My proposed package here sends back immediate major-league help in Rosario, and also a legitimate top-line pitching prospect in Balazovic, who isn't all that far off. It's a tough ante for the Twins, but Iglesias adds a key piece alongside Taylor Rogers at the back end of the bullpen. And we're not done yet.
7. Sign RHP Dellin Betances to a two-year, $25 million contract.
There are question marks surrounding Betances: he gives up walks in bunches, he missed virtually all of 2019 due to injury, and he'll be returning from Achilles surgery next spring. These factors all figure to keep his price tag in check, to an extent. But the right-hander is still gonna get paid based on his electric upside and dominant stuff. In this blueprint, we can afford the risk with the relief depth we're building, and if he returns to form Betances will add an elite weapon to Rocco Baldelli's late-inning repertoire. In seven seasons since joining the Yankees bullpen full-time, the 6-foot-8 righty owns a 2.21 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 14.7 K/9 rate.
8. Sign LHP Drew Pomeranz to a two-year, $7 million contract.
Here's our blurb on Pomeranz from the Handbook:
"The overall numbers are undeniably ugly, but they don’t tell the whole story. After going 2-9 with a 6.10 ERA in 17 starts, Pomeranz moved to the bullpen, where he posted a 1.99 ERA and 53-to-9 K/BB ratio over his final 31.2 IP, experiencing a big uptick in velocity. He has also held lefty hitters to a .625 OPS in his career."
We had a hard time pegging his projected contract. If enough teams zero in on his relief upside, he could get considerably more than $7 million guaranteed. Then again, the reality is that he's 4-16 with a 5.36 ERA over the past two years, and was traded for a modest return in July. If he costs more, I'm ponying up. Pomeranz looks like a great fit for the Twins: at worst, the solid situational left-hander they need; at best, another reliable all-purpose weapon in high leverage.
With the lineup, my approach was, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The Twins can bring back their record-setting offense in its entirety, and I chose to do so minus Rosario. His spot will be filled by Gonzalez, Cave, and Wade Jr. until someone from the Alex Kirilloff/Trevor Larnach/Brent Rooker group is ready.
On the pitching side, I'm calling for a fundamental shift. Bumgarner and Berrios are your two traditional starters, aiming for 200 innings and 20 wins. Meanwhile, Odorizzi will have a 5-to-6 inning routine, asking him only to continue the formula he excelled with this year. That'll roughly be the plan for Pineda as well once he joins, after having his spot filled by someone like Randy Dobnak for two months.
In the final rotation spot I've penciled in Brusdar Graterol. I'm of the opinion that you need to leverage an arm like this while at its peak strength. Unleashing him as a regulated starter with restricted pitch counts seems like a happy compromise between relieving, which reduces his impact, and starting, which may be too physically demanding.
The deep and versatile bullpen is the straw stirring this drink. With 26 roster spots, the Twins can perpetually carry an eight-man unit. And if they use the final spot as a rotating door, like they did throughout 2019, it's essentially nine. This enables the team to plan around routinely short starts from Odorizzi, Pineda and Graterol. It also sets the stage for frequent bullpen games.
Rocco Baldelli will never have a shortage of fresh arms, and the addition of multiple high-caliber backend relievers prevents overuse of any one guy in big spots. Meanwhile, with developing options like Stashak, Sean Poppen, Lewis Thorpe and Fernando Romero opening in the minors, the Twins will have reinforcements at the ready.
We end up with a final payroll of around $140 million, which is well within reason. If Odorizzi accepts the QO, or the free agents cost a little more than we've guessed, bump that number up $5-10 million, but the core premise remains valid. Long-term spending flexibility is mostly preserved, and in 2020, you've got a roster that (in my opinion) is well poised to succeed in the regular season and playoffs.
~~~What would your blueprint look like for the Twins this winter? Download your copy of the Offseason Handbook and use it to construct a champion. Share your vision for discussion in our Create a Blueprint forum thread. Meanwhile, stay tuned to TD as our writers will be formulating offseason plans from different perspectives all week long.
- Cory Engelhardt, NoCryingInBaseball, mikelink45 and 3 others like this