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The Littell Dilemma

The Dodgers have a 2-1 series lead in the World Series as I type this. It’s possible that the World Series is over as early as Sunday. Even if the series goes seven games, the series will be over Wednesday and the offseason will begin. Teams will have decisions to make. The Twins will have to make one interesting decision pretty quickly.
Image courtesy of Jay Biggerstaff, USA Today
Roster management is such a key component for a front office. There is a 26-man roster (or 28 in 2020). 40-man roster spots are precious, and in 2020, there was a 60-man player pool to keep tabs on too.

On September 17th, the Twins announced that right-handed relief pitcher Zack Littell had been outrighted from the team’s 40-man roster. It was a translation that certainly created some discussion among Twins fans. And the six weeks since then hasn’t really clarified things.

Did the Twins really DFA a then-24-year-old Littell to give Homer Bailey one start at the end of the season before DFAing him too?

As a 23-year-old in 2019, Littell went 6-0 with a 2.68 ERA in 37 innings over 29 games out of the Twins bullpen. He became one of the Twins most reliable relievers over the final two months of the Twins season.

But 2020 was not a good year for Littell. He pitched just six games for the Twins and gave up seven runs in six innings. He was especially hurt by five home run balls. He clearly wasn’t the same, and a couple of Injured List stints with elbow issues likely tells much of the story.

The bigger surprise to many, at least to me (and several others I’ve talked to), is that he went unclaimed. 29 teams had the opportunity to claim him, a 24-year-old reliever just one year from having his breakout season.

That is the way-too-quick summary of what brings us to today.

But one other piece of information is important as it relates to right now. Zack Littell was the 11th round pick of the Seattle Mariners in June of 2013 out of Eastern Alamance High School in Haw River, North Carolina.

That means that five days after the World Series is complete, Littell will (or could) become a 6-year minor league free agent. He will spend the entire 2021 season at just 25 years old.

What are the options at this point regarding Littell, or any of the other Twins six-year minor league free agent candidates)?

ADD HIM BACK TO THE 40-MAN ROSTER

If the Twins don’t want to lose Littell, and feel confident in that fact, they could simply add him back to the 40-man roster before he becomes a free agent five days after the World Series.

TRADE HIM

The Twins could try to trade him to another organization and that team would then have the same set of options. That said, if that team is acquiring him within a week of him becoming a free agent, two things are clear. First, the Twins would not get much in return. Anything more than “Cash Considerations” would be fortunate. Second, that team would certainly want to add him to their 40-man roster.

LET HIM BECOME A FREE AGENT

If the team allows him to become a free agent, a few different scenarios could take place:

  • If they beat other teams to the punch and sign him to a minor league contract quickly, that would be a positive. However, he would also be subject to the Rule 5 draft so he could still be lost in December.

  • They could agree to terms with the player, but not officially sign the minor league contract until the days following the Rule 5 draft.

  • If they aren’t interested in bringing him back, or aren’t willing to offer what other organizations are, he could simply sign elsewhere.



So if you’re Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, what would you do?


BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE

Any of the players that the Twins signed as minor league free agents before the 2020 season will also be free agents five days after the World Series. The following players have now been in the Twins organization since at least 2014 and are also not on the 40-man roster.

RHP Jake Reed
LHP Sam Clay
RHP Andro Cutura
RHP Moises Gomez
RHP Jose Martinez

For more on each, refer to this article from August in which each was discussed. Should any of the pitchers be added to the 40-man roster? Would you prioritize bringing any of them back as minor leaguer free agents?


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29 Comments

I voted to keep him on the 40 man roster. He still has 1 option left so you see if he can bounceback and fix his issues next year so he can be a cheap, useful, middle reliever for the team going forward. He's also still plenty young too!
    • TopGunn#22 and arby58 like this

I would say good bye to all the players listed and to Littell.It is nasty, but the time has come to move and I think the Twins already indicated where they stand.

    • saviking likes this

So little info on nonMLB players this year without MiLB, hard to know young pitchers that are close to being ready or ready to play for Twins. But maybe a few that have passed up Littel. I would try to sign him to minor league deal.

    • rdehring likes this

He'd be on the bubble for a 40-man spot on my team, and I don't have a clear enough picture of who the alternatives are (once the chaff is gone from this year's roster). He seems to be too good to just give away, and coming off a season of injury, it truly is a dilemma. First choice is to try to find a spot for him, and second choice is to try to include him in a trade.

    • DocBauer, wabene and rdehring like this
Photo
tarheeltwinsfan
Oct 24 2020 07:28 PM

Free Jake Reed. I hope he will be another Liam Hendricks. 

    • Seth Stohs, nclahammer, Twinfan603 and 1 other like this

He's a nice story but his break out was just SSS. He's a AAAA type and easily replaceable.

    • USAFChief, mikelink45 and JLease like this

I like Littell, but I'd go with a MILB deal. I don't think he'll be taken in the Rule 5 draft, and even if he was, it wouldn't be a big deal. It was telling that no MLB team claimed him he was DFA'd...

    • gagu, wabene, rdehring and 1 other like this

I've always liked Jake Reed and felt he deserved a look with the big club a couple of years ago.

 

I would also like a look at Jake Reed.It seems like our genius FA has missed on a few really good players. I do not claim to know the problem, but some organizations are seeming to get more out of Twins reclamation projects than the Twins (Tampa Bay for one).Command of high velocity, plus a good breaking pitch, seem now to count more than spin rate.  

    • wabene likes this

As fans, we often have short memories. Littell's 2019 - at age 23 - was a very strong performance. Compare it to Alcala this year at age 24. Littell 37 innings pitched (Alcala 24); Littell WHIP 1.162 (Alcala 1.208); Littell 32 Ks and 9 BB (Alcala 27-8); Littell ERA+ 171 (Alcala 168) LittelL 2.68 ERA (Alcala 2.63).

Pretty much everyone thinks Alcala has a bright future, yet Littell's 2019 was arguably better than Alcala's 2020. They're both 24. Yes, elbow injuries are a concern, but nearly every pitcher encounters them at some point (or points) in time - and pitchers like Jacob deGrom and Stephen Strasburg did all right after recovery. 

Of course, the Twins have more complete information, and relievers who can throw 96 and pitch an inning a game seem to be in pretty good supply. If that is what the Twins see, ok.

    • TopGunn#22, Dman, DocBauer and 3 others like this
Littell was one of the top relief pitchers on the team in 2019. And he had excellent minor league stats before that. And he had the potential to be a starter.

Did he clear waivers solely because of injuries? Or is there is there something else going on?

He seemed like a real bulldog on the mound. He went about 15 consecutive games without allowing an earned run at one stretch.
    • TopGunn#22, DocBauer and arby58 like this

Thanks, Seth. Always like this guy, we will see within a week or so what they do.

Boy, I think it's obvious.Put him back on the 40-man.Do they really have so many guys who are better prospects?And at his age? 2020 is/was a very "odd" year.Other than my determination to move on from Rosario and Sano I wouldn't make too many knee-jerk decisions.Littell has too much potential (and he's already demonstrated what that potential is) to just let him drift away (like Nick Anderson)!!

    • arby58 likes this

 

He's a nice story but his break out was just SSS. He's a AAAA type and easily replaceable.

 

Maybe... but his 'breakout' was longer than the 2020 season, which included arm injuries.

    • Danchat, DocBauer and dbminn like this

 

I would also like a look at Jake Reed.It seems like our genius FA has missed on a few really good players. I do not claim to know the problem, but some organizations are seeming to get more out of Twins reclamation projects than the Twins (Tampa Bay for one).Command of high velocity, plus a good breaking pitch, seem now to count more than spin rate.  

 

I think they were "wrong" on Nick Anderson and John Curtiss. Who else?

 

They've also been right on several from other organizations. Every team is going to have a couple of misses and a couple of success stories. 

    • DocBauer, Wizard11, wabene and 1 other like this

I think this article is littell about nothing. We should be talking about how they never gave Nick Anderson a bonafide shot in the majors with such a stellar minor league career. 

 

Not sure why anyone would trade for Littell when they wouldn't take him off waivers and as for Jake Reed, why is he even still here ..

arby58 did the numbers so I don't have to, lol. Thanks! He absolutely has to be added back to the 40 man. He is 24yo and has ddcent stuff witb good results initially. There are/were 2 different scenarios taking place for his previous removal:

1] He's hurt worse than we know at this point and surgery remains a possibility.

2] In the midst of a short and poor 2020 the FO gambled he would slide through to create a roster opening. It was a gamble that worked.
    • Dman, PDX Twin and wabene like this

Littell is a gamble. No one claimed him because he wasn't useful in 2020 and he would be a roster decision for 2021. The chances are that he will sign on as a minor league free agent with a spring training invite. If the Twins know more, that he can be a regular after one more option year, than "yes" put him on the 40-man. His biggest plus his his age, minor league record, and dynamite 2019 out of the bullpen.

 

And no to any of the others for a 40-man add. Sam Clay would be a slim possibility. A younger Caleb Thielbar, perhaps. If you can keep him and Moises Gomez for another season as minor free agents, do it.

 

But other teams will be cutting similar players. Be interesting to see the number of players available as minor league free agents, or the number of plays not offered arbitration.

 

Do the Twins have 8-10 potential 40-man spots?

    • ashbury and DocBauer like this

Do the Twins have 8-10 potential 40-man spots?

You're the Rosterman. You tell us! :)

    • dbminn and Scott51104 like this
It seems to me that our FO has a theory about certain pitching injuries. I think that is why they let Burdi and the dude that ended up withe Dodgers for a bit. Just my guess but perhaps Falvine thinks whatever is physically wrong makes him toast
    • dbminn likes this

 

I think they were "wrong" on Nick Anderson and John Curtiss. Who else?

 

They've also been right on several from other organizations. Every team is going to have a couple of misses and a couple of success stories. 

What is Tampa seeing in SLegers?

 

    • Danchat and DocBauer like this

I would keep Littell on the 40 man roster. The guy has proven that he can pitch in the majors even with a small sample. The only other option would be to trade him for a 6th or 7th round draft choice but I would not do this. Give him one more shot. You can always release him later.

Not sure how many of Twins minor league players are rule 5 eligible, but I think some higher prospects will be this year-Kirilloff, Rooker, Balazovic, Colina. Already carried Duran, Chalmers, Gordon, Blankenhorn, Celestino on 40 man last year. May be some difficult decisions coming.

    • Dman likes this

 

I think they were "wrong" on Nick Anderson and John Curtiss. Who else?

 

They've also been right on several from other organizations. Every team is going to have a couple of misses and a couple of success stories. 

Right - this year, the Twins were 'right' about Matt Wisler - and 'right again' about Caleb Thielbar. Some of this is a bit of a crapshoot.

    • DocBauer likes this

 

I think they were "wrong" on Nick Anderson and John Curtiss. Who else?

 

They've also been right on several from other organizations. Every team is going to have a couple of misses and a couple of success stories. 

How about Liam Hendricks?I think there is one more, but can't think of the name at this time.Pressely was decision on what he was worth in two years.  


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