The Littell Dilemma
Image courtesy of Jay Biggerstaff, USA TodayRoster 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.
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?