Ranking the Remaining Free Agent Starters
Image courtesy of Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY SportsPersonally, my preference would be to see the Twins put a bow on their offseason by trading for an impact starter who could actually upgrade the rotation. It might still happen. But there's certainly a good case to be made for turning toward the free agent market to address this last need.
For one thing, the Twins don't need to give up any talent by going this route. In fact, they likely won't even need to give up a 40-man roster spot, since I suspect every remaining player on the market would settle for a non-guaranteed deal (especially if it came with a strong likelihood of earning a rotation spot out of the gates on Minnesota's stacked team).
This matters because the 40-man is already full; as is, someone is going to need to come off to make room for Donaldson (likely on Wednesday). The Twins would rather avoid pruning any more of their talent, and a minor-league signing would allow them to hold off on adding the newly-signed player until March, when they have the ability to shift Rich Hill to the 60-day IL.
By my count, there are 23 remaining free agent starters with any level of notoriety. Here I will rank them in terms of how they fit with the Twins.
1. Taijuan Walker (27): Easily the most appealing name left among FA starters. The former top prospect has flashed excellence at times in Seattle and Arizona, and will still be 27 for most of 2020. He missed most of 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery but returned to make one outing at season's end, so he's seemingly okay healthwise. It's odd and a little concerning he hasn't signed yet.
2. Jhoulys Chacin (32): He was knocked around for a 6.01 ERA in 103 innings with Milwaukee and Boston last year, but put up a 3.69 ERA over 373 frames in the two seasons prior, and even as he struggled in 2019, he managed to strike out a batter per inning. Seems like a very reasonable bounceback candidate.
3. Trevor Cahill (32): Might be generally viewed as a reliever now, after pitching exclusively in that role for the Angels after May last year. But Cahill is still conditioned to start, having thrown 100+ innings in the each of the past two years, and the appeal of a rotation opportunity could draw him to Minnesota. He can still miss some bats.
4. Cody Anderson (29): A bit of an odd case in that he's reaching free agency after throwing just 160 total major-league innings. Injuries gobbled up most of his service time in Cleveland, including last year when he underwent surgery for a torn flexor tendon in his elbow. But he's under 30, will be about nine months removed from the operation when spring training starts, has shown strong ability when on the mound, and is familiar to Derek Falvey.
5. Andrew Cashner (33): Another longtime starter who transitioned to relief amidst struggles last year. Far removed from his glory days in San Diego, with a 4.61 ERA/4.86 FIP since 2016, he's not attractive on the surface. But Cashner still brings it in the mid-90s and it's not crazy to think he could be a few tweaks away from being effective.
6. Danny Salazar (30): He has had about as hard a time staying healthy as any pitcher in the league, making one appearance since 2017 and reaching 30 starts in a season only once before that. But when he's on the hill, Salazar is awesome, averaging 10.5 K/9 with a 3.85 ERA in 591 career innings. He's an extreme longshot but worth bringing in if there's any confidence his arm can hold up. Like Cody Anderson, Falvey knows Salazar well.
7. Jeremy Hellickson (33): Fizzled last year in Washington, but posted a 3.45 ERA in 2018, and a 3.71 mark in 2016. The shoulder strain that cost him most of 2019 is worrisome given his age and declining velocity, but he's had plenty of success in his career and isn't ancient. As a rookie in 2010, Hellickson was a teammate of Rocco Baldelli's in Tampa.
8. Wade LeBlanc (35): Last year was rough for LeBlanc, who coughed up 27 homers with a 5.71 ERA for Seattle, but he'd enjoyed some solid stretches in the years prior, with a 3.91 ERA in 292 innings from 2016 through 2018. If Wes Johnson and the Twins could mitigate his persistent long ball issues, he could be a fairly decent back-of-rotation plug.
9. Marco Estrada (36): Back in 2015 and 2016, his first two years with Toronto, Estrada was sensational, registering a 3.30 ERA while holding opponents to a .203 AVG both years. He has since battled health and performance issues, most recently missing most of 2019 due to back surgery. If he's at all back to normal, the swing-and-miss stuff is intriguing.
10. Jason Vargas (37): Only two seasons removed from winning 18 games as an All-Star for the Royals in 2017. Looked pretty good with the Mets last year before floundering after a deadline trade to Philly. Certainly not much upside here but the lefty might be suitable for consuming some early-season innings.
11. Derek Holland (33): He has finished with an ERA above 6 in two of the last three seasons, which is quite discouraging, but sandwiched a solid season with the Giants in 2018. Compared to most others on this list, Holland's record of durability is immaculate, but control issues have plagued him of late. Thad Levine is plenty familiar from his days in Texas.
12. Matt Harvey (31): The red flags and question marks are almost endless coming off a nightmare campaign with the Angels (7.09 ERA), but Harvey was once a premier young pitcher in the game, and he's not all that old. so the upside hasn't faded entirely. Twins Daily member billyp4444 made a case for Harvey in the blogs section this week.
13. JC Ramirez (31): The Angels gave up on him last August as he failed to show much in his return from Tommy John. He's not very accomplished as a big-leaguer but looked decent in the Halos rotation in 2017 (4.15 ERA in 147 innings) and he was pumping heaters at 95+ prior to TJ surgery. Might be worth a look if he's regained strength with some time off.
14. Chad Bettis (30): His crummy career numbers (5.12 ERA, 1.47 WHIP) need to be contextualized against the reality of pitching at Coors Field. Bettis is not great but some metrics suggest he's about average when healthy, which he seemingly is after recovering from hip surgery. He's a pitch-to-contact guy who gets grounders, which isn't the worst match for the Twins presently.
15. Aaron Sanchez (27): In terms of pure ability and upside, Sanchez would rank near the top of this list. But he's just not a fit for Minnesota's needs, given that he'll miss the start of the 2020 season after undergoing shoulder surgery in September. I'd still take him over any of the washouts below, which is to say that this is about the cutoff where I'd just as soon roll with a rookie.
16. Tommy Milone (33): Has basically one strength, and it's enabled him to keep sticking around: control. He reliably pounds the zone, but it's not enough to make up for the way he gets raked by opposing hitters. There's not enough ceiling here to be interesting.
17. Clay Buchholz (35): He was a disaster in 12 starts for Toronto last year, posting a 6.56 ERA with career-low velocity, but looked considerably better the previous season in Arizona (2.01 ERA in 98 IP). Experience is the selling point here, but there are better options on that front.
18. Shelby Miller (29): His is a name that has intrigued me for some time, because he's still young and was oh-so-good when he first came into the league with Atlanta. But the guy has a 6.89 ERA and 1.75 WHIP dating back to 2016. It would take an especially good report on his health to raise any kind of optimism around him. There's been almost zero buzz on Miller this winter, so any faith in his once-prized arm appears to have evaporated.
19. Ervin Santana (37): A reunion with the pre-Donaldson title-holder for biggest Twins FA signing ever would be kinda fun, especially if there was any chance Santana could recapture a semblance of his previous form with the Twins. He was a borderline ace in 2016 and 2017 before completely unraveling. In eight MLB starts over the past two seasons, Erv has given up an egregious 15 home runs in 38 innings. At his age there's not much reason to expect at turnaround.
20. Clayton Richard (36): He's old and he's been consistently terrible for years, with an utterly hittable repertoire that right-handed hitters feast upon. Ostensibly he's a ground ball specialist but he's lost the ability to limit home runs of late. No appeal here.
21. Hector Santiago (32): From the moment Minnesota acquired him via the Angels in 2016, Santiago's reasonably successful career pretty much fell off a cliff. He has lost all touch with the strike zone (113 walks in 206 innings since 2017), making him essentially unusable.
22. Wei-Yin Chen (34): The Marlins are paying Chen $22 million NOT to pitch for them in 2020, after releasing him and his 6.59 ERA this offseason. That pretty much tells you all you need to know.
23. Edwin Jackson (36): He's amazingly been around since 2003, when he debuted at age 19 for the Dodgers. Since then he's accrued a 4.68 ERA in nearly 2,000 major-league innings. Jackson still wants to pitch, and seeing him join his record 15th different team would be cool, but he looked to have nothing left in the tank last year while dropping a ghastly 9.58 ERA and 2.03 WHIP for Toronto and Detroit.
Recognizing that the quality threshold here is low... Any of these names do anything for any of y'all?
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