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Ranking the Remaining Free Agent Starters

With Josh Donaldson aboard and Brusdar Graterol pegged for a relief role, the offense and bullpen both feel complete. (Each with monumental depth and upside.)

The starting rotation, however, could still use a finishing touch. Are the Twins really going to open with two rookies in place?

Presumably, they're still mining the market for a final addition.
Image courtesy of Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Personally, 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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50 Comments

With the organizational depth in OF, cant help but come back to Larnach and what kind of SP a package around him would bring.

    • alphanumeric and Minny505 like this

Yeah, I don't see any of these guys as better than Dobnak/Thorpe...

 

Walker was good, but he hasn't pitched for two years, so will be interesting to see what's left. 

    • Mike Frasier Law, alphanumeric, mikelink45 and 2 others like this
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Nick Nelson
Jan 21 2020 10:59 PM

 

Yeah, I don't see any of these guys as better than Dobnak/Thorpe...

 

Walker was good, but he hasn't pitched for two years, so will be interesting to see what's left. 

Neither had a slightly older Michael Pineda, for what it's worth.

 

Re: improvements over Dobnak/Thorpe... they don't need to be. It's about creating more options and contingencies. With the exception of Taijuan, I can't see any of these guys commanding a guaranteed deal, so there's not much downside in bringing one or more into camp for a look. 

 

The Twins should basically have their pick. Where else are these guys gonna get a better opportunity? 

    • beckmt, Dman, DocBauer and 3 others like this
Harper is probably gone as soon as the Donaldson signing is made officially. (Wouldn't mind him sticking around in a milb signing). Any other FA signing means Wisler is gone the same. Does that matter? Or are the Twins of the belief Johnson can teach him a FB to go along with his slider and truly hesitant to dump him before trying? (Never thought you'd here that, right?).

Walker is the only guy I see here worthy of a ML deal and 40 man spot. Will he get that? Would he be willing to jump on board right now for a milb deal and an invite...with obvious opportunity...with some really nice incentives?

This is the perfect time to bring in a couple of these guys on milb fliers. Again, opportunity is there. Nobody, other than Walker, really intrigues me much. But it's the job of the FO to identify which of these guys are worth it and have a chance. But unless an actual ML trade is made, it would be borderline misguided, if not stupid, to not bring in a couple flier options.

Is Collin McHugh still available, or did he sign recently? TwinsO'Holic had a recent blog post that made some sense to consider him as an option.
    • mikelink45, Minny505 and MN_ExPat like this
If Walker was healthy he would have or will get an MLB deal. I like the idea of being Danny Salazar who Dalvey is familiar with and I still like Aaron Sanchez as a guy who can cover later in the season if we have injuries or ineffectiveness in the rotation.

Going into the season with Berrios, Odorizzi, and an aging Bailey seems like a recipe for disaster. If one of those guys has an issue and isn't ready for the start of the season, the Twins would be in extremely dire straits. I just don't believe that free agency is much of an option at this point, the scenarios that make the most sense are trades.

 

    • Twins33 and bighat like this

I have always liked Chacin, Not sure why he was so bad last year.That is who I would try

If they can get Salazar with a minor league contract, that is my pick. Maybe he is ready to stay healthy?

    • Twins33, TopGunn#22, Lunger and 2 others like this

If they can get Salazar with a minor league contract, that is my pick. Maybe he is ready to stay healthy?


This would be my choice as well.
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Doctor Gast
Jan 22 2020 06:35 AM

Yeah, I`d maybe give Walker an invitation but I`d like to give someone like Romero every opportunity to prove himself. Then figure out what to do w/him. Hope he catches on fire

Walker or Salazar. Nothing to lose. Get er done.

    • beckmt, TopGunn#22 and alphanumeric like this

 

Walker or Salazar. Nothing to lose. Get er done.

Agreed, actually want both if one decent contracts, nothing to lose. (minor league with invites to spring training).May have to give one of them a major league contract, we still have a couple of spots to let go of players (starting with Harper).

    • TopGunn#22 likes this
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IndianaTwin
Jan 22 2020 07:57 AM

I’d move Salazar up to No. 2. And Buchholz up considerably. I know there’s virtually no likelihood of the latter making a full season, but I’d like it if there’s at least a likelihood of him making 8 starts. 

    • TopGunn#22, Minny505 and DannySD like this

 

Going into the season with Berrios, Odorizzi, and an aging Bailey seems like a recipe for disaster. If one of those guys has an issue and isn't ready for the start of the season, the Twins would be in extremely dire straits. I just don't believe that free agency is much of an option at this point, the scenarios that make the most sense are trades.

This is a good point. The Twins are essentially in need of a "rental" pitcher who can be steady enough to eat innings from April into late May. Basically someone who can replicate Martin Perez' starts during the same period last year. The Twins are hoping Dobnak is one of those guys - who's the other?

 

It would be a shame to see this team treading water at the .500 mark or below for the first 2 months waiting on Pineda and Hill. It would be pretty sad if they dug themselves a hole that they couldn't get out of, right out of the gate.

    • Dman likes this
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twinkiesfan11
Jan 22 2020 08:08 AM
A big consideration in this discussion is 40 man roster space as the Twins already have to make a difficult decision to cut someone to make room for Donaldson. I personally don’t see anyone on this list worthy of a guaranteed contract/40 man slot unless Walker or Salazar are healthy which they must not be or they would have surely been signed by now.

That being said, I think they should absolutely be making some offers for minor league deals with invitations to spring training with opt out dates and performance incentives. Might as well target the highest upside pitchers in this group (Walker, Salazar, Sanchez). Never hurts to try to catch lightning in a bottle and they’ll have another roster spot available at the start of spring training when Rich Hill can be transferred to the IL.
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ChrisKnutson
Jan 22 2020 08:31 AM
Sanchez and Walker may be the most interesting options, but Cashner to me seems like the most dependable option, yet still has some upside to tap into.

I am sorry Graterol is going to be BP and I hope he will be given a few spot starts, but otherwise you are right - the starting three until Pineda comes back is not comforting.On the other hand if you had Thorpe, Dobnak, and Smeltzer on this list where would they rank?I hope at the top, but I do not know and that is the frightening aspect.And finally this makes me ask you or Seth - is there any chance that Balazovic is given a chance this year?

 

Neither had a slightly older Michael Pineda, for what it's worth.

 

Re: improvements over Dobnak/Thorpe... they don't need to be. It's about creating more options and contingencies. With the exception of Taijuan, I can't see any of these guys commanding a guaranteed deal, so there's not much downside in bringing one or more into camp for a look. 

 

The Twins should basically have their pick. Where else are these guys gonna get a better opportunity? 

 

Yeah, I forgot to add... "And I'd be fine with any of them on a minor league deal, or at least any of the first 6-7."

 

I'd offer like a May 25th opt-out for them too. That way you know Pineda is coming back and now you just have to decide on (hopefully) just one spot in the rotation. 

    • MN_ExPat likes this
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Sssuperdave
Jan 22 2020 09:12 AM

I'd pass on all of these free agents.The Twins have plenty of internal options that are cheaper and possibly better than almost all of the arms on this list.Thorpe, Smeltzer, Dobnak, Poppen, Duran, and Alcala are all on the 40 man, and you've got Griffin Jax and Adam Bray in Rochester that I'd rather add to the 40 man than any of these free agents.

 

I mean, I'm not hoping for significant innings from guys like Poppen, Duran, Jax, etc., but they are cheaper and more interesting plans B and C than any of these free agents, except maybe Walker. 

 

If they are going to add pitching, which I still think they should, they should aim higher via trade.

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terrydactyls1947
Jan 22 2020 09:12 AM

 
It would be a shame to see this team treading water at the .500 mark or below for the first 2 months waiting on Pineda and Hill. It would be pretty sad if they dug themselves a hole that they couldn't get out of, right out of the gate.


If the Twins are struggling to be at .500 after two months with this offensive lineup, then I'm afraid one "ACE" won't be enough. Pitchers with the ability of my mother (and she's been dead 20 years) should be enough to get by until Peneda and Hill are ready. But, if any of the top five or six on this list want to sign a minor league deal, go to it.
    • chpettit19 and MN_ExPat like this

Any of these pitchers that are under 30 on a minor league deal would be a great addition. It would be reasonable to add that the reason they are not signed yet is that they are holding out hope fora major league deal.

    • MMMordabito likes this
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LA VIkes Fan
Jan 22 2020 09:57 AM

Walker and Salazar are interesting on minor league deals. I'd give one or even both a shot, but not if it costs a 40 man spot prior to Spring Training.Having said that, given the long stretch before announcing the Donaldson signing, I can't help but think there's a trade in the works that might open up a 40 spot or two beyond the one we need for Donaldson. I wouldn't mind a flyer on Sanchez if there were a spot open that didn't require us to sacrifice a good or better prospect. 

 

Run far, far away from Cahill, Harvey and Chacon. I live in LA and have sen all 3 of them. Cahill is a gamer but has nothing much left. He was so bad that the Angels put him in the bullpen when they had guys from AA coming up to start. Harvey stinks and is not a great clubhouse guy. Chacon is done. 

 

JC Ramirez is a tad intriguing. Talented guy with a big arm, maybe just needs a little more time away from the TJ surgery. Also has the heater that might play in the BP. He could be worth a shot if he would take a minors deal with a 5/31 opt out so we could see him in ST and at AAA, and have him as insurance if the young guys struggle. The rest? Hard pass. 

 

 The interesting thing is that 90% plus of these guys will be on a Spring Training roster and probably 60-75% will be on an MLB or AAA team.Just shows you how hard it is to find pitching. We got to keep any pitching we have that shows any semblance of an upside. 

    • TopGunn#22 and DannySD like this

This is really complete, thanks for doing the research. I added this in another thread, but I'm intrigued by Salazar and Walker.

 

Would definitely take a flier for a ST invite, 1mil if they make the team for either or both of them. Exact deal that Felix got from the Braves. 

 

Don't start the clock on Balazovic yet. 

    • Nick Nelson, TopGunn#22 and MN_ExPat like this
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TwinsFan347
Jan 22 2020 10:53 AM

Thanks for the research on the available FA's. Maybe offering a minor league deal to one of these if you believe they still have upside would work. 

 

This may be an unpopular opinion, but I'm happy with our current SP's to start the season. Unless a great opportunity presents itself to add a SP who's at least better than Pineda through a trade, no moves need to made. Once we get to the trade deadline that could, and likely will change.

 

Going into the season we're set to have a young SP in the 5th spot and for about 7 starts a second young SP in Pineda's spot. There seems to be a lot of sentiment that this is an issue - I see it as an opportunity to get more data on our young pitchers at the ML level. Let's be honest the division will not be decided because a young pitcher starts those 7 games in place of Pineda. Getting additional data on those young players prior to the time we need to make a decision is far more important IMO.

 

Last year with all of the injuries in the OF we went and got LaMarre. He's a decent player, but it sure would be nice to have some ML data on one or two of our young OF's as they get closer to the point where we are going have to make some decisions.

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MMMordabito
Jan 22 2020 11:01 AM

... and then there were 22.  Santiago to the Tigers.  

 

Adjustment needed for over/under on 2020 bombas.