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The Pineda Plug: 3 Upside Plays the Twins Could Target

In covering the handful of starts Michael Pineda will miss in 2020 while he serves his suspension, the Twins could simply turn to an internal option. Or, they could leverage their unique situation to lure that most intriguing of free agent specimens: the reclamation project.
Image courtesy of Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports (Shelby Miller)
In general, Minnesota isn't the most attractive destination for free agent players who have their pick out of numerous suitors. But for one specific profile, the Twins are a particularly appealing choice. That profile? Formerly successful veteran pitchers with talent who are, for whatever reason (usually health-related), simply looking for a chance to bounce back, even if on a non-guaranteed deal.

Anibal Sanchez was one such example in spring of 2018, though he slipped away. There are a few potentially similar names in this year's free agent crop that stand out to me, and I'll zero in on three of them below.

Based on their track records, and relative youth, these free agents will surely have markets of their own – especially given the low risk – but the Twins can make a simple differentiating pitch: You don't even really have to compete for a job. Come to camp, show us something, and the gig is yours for at least six weeks – a rotation spot on a team that should be pretty good, with a cutting-edge pitching coach at your disposal. Once Pineda returns, if you've performed, you'll have a role (or at worst, you'll be an in-demand trade candidate).

On those terms, I like the potential with these three.

Matt Moore, LHP

There are two reasons you might know the name. The first is that it belongs to the backup Chiefs QB who took down the Vikings at Arrowhead several weeks back. But that isn't who we're talking about here. Instead, it's another professional thrower, far removed from his glory days.

When Moore arrived on the scene as a full-timer for the Rays in 2012, the left-hander was ranked by both MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus as the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball. He backed up the hype as a rookie, posting a 3.81 ERA and averaging a strikeout per inning at age 23.

The next year, Moore fully blossomed. He won 17 of his 27 starts with a 3.29 ERA and was named to the All-Star team. But from there, it was all downhill.

The next April he tore his UCL, requiring Tommy John surgery. He came back in 2015 and struggled mightily. In 2016 he returned to form somewhat, but was shipped from Tampa to San Francisco at the deadline. The 2017 season was a complete disaster as Moore went 6-15 with a 5.52 ERA for the Giants, who then flipped him to Texas for a minimal return in the offseason.

The Rangers couldn't work their magic on Moore in 2018 as he stumbled to a 6.57 ERA in 102 innings split between the rotation and bullpen. This year, he landed with Detroit on a $2.5 million deal but suffered a season-ending knee injury in his second start.

Through all of this, Moore is still only 30. His velocity hasn't diminished. And, to the extent that you can draw any positive conclusions from a two-start season, Moore did look sharp in 10 scoreless innings for the Tigers, allowing just three hits and a walk with nine strikeouts.

Shelby Miller, RHP

Much like Moore, Miller was a highly touted prospect who burst onto the scene at a young age and then faded. In this case, however, the drop-off was even more severe.

A consensus Top-25 prospect heading into 2013, Miller finished third in Rookie of the Year voting as a fixture in the Cardinals rotation, finishing with a 3.06 ERA in 31 starts. He was good again in 2014, got traded, and then followed with a stellar showing in Atlanta: 205 IP, 3.02 ERA, 3.7 fWAR (and a 6-17 record, oddly).

Miller was dealt again in the ensuing offseason – this time to the desert, where his effectiveness dried up. He posted a 6.15 ERA over 20 starts in 2016, and then threw only 38 innings over the next two seasons, besieged by elbow issues. Last year Miller inked a $2 million deal with Texas, but was cut loose ahead of the All-Star break. The Brewers brought him in for a look and released him a month later.

It's not a good sign when both those teams fail to make anything work with an arm, but perhaps Miller just need another few months of rest to get right (and the Wes Johnson touch?). He'll still be 29 next year.

Drew Smyly, LHP

Smyly really intrigues me as a fit for the Twins. He struggles with one very specific thing – the long ball – and "struggles" is putting it lightly.

In 2016 with Tampa, the southpaw allowed 32 home runs over 175 innings. His HR/9 rate (1.64) was fourth-highest in baseball. He then missed the next two seasons entirely due to injuries (including Tommy John). When he returned this year, he once again gave up 32 home runs, but this time in just 114 innings for the Rangers and Phillies – a league-leading 2.5 HR/9 rate.

When you get past the egregious gopher ball woes... there's definitely something here. Through his struggles this year, Smyly struck out 120 batters in 114 innings with his quality cutter-curve mix. The former second-round draft pick was once a young standout for the Tigers and Rays, posting a 3.24 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 395 innings over his first four campaigns.

The Twins have some cred when it comes to curing the home run bug. Smyly's former rotation-mate with the Rays, Jake Odorizzi, came to Minnesota and turned that same weakness into a strength. Historically HR-prone Michael Pineda also seemed to turn a corner midway through his Twins tenure, allowing 14 bombs in his first 10 starts this year and nine in his last 16. As a staff, Minnesota had the fourth-lowest HR rate in the majors despite ranking 24th in grounders. They're doing something right.

Smyly's a gamble, just as Miller and Moore would be. But in each case, there's a non-trivial chance the Twins come up with a real asset by opening the floor to a quarter-season audition as they await Pineda's activation.

Which one of these three interests you most? Or is there another reclamation project with real upside that strikes your fancy as an early-season plug?

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28 Comments

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sweetmusicviola16
Dec 11 2019 09:42 PM

Nick, can you dig any deeper to find bad? Travis Wood would be my choice.

 

Rendon is now off of our wish list

    • mikelink45 likes this
I'd choose none. If that's the best they can do, might as well just roll with the internal options.
    • Puckett34, Musk21, Danchat and 4 others like this

Drew Smyly intrigues me he is a guy, that potentially could dominate if he can figure out the long ball.Wouldn't mind throwing pinada's starts at him to see if he stuck.But he would have to take Pineda's $ hes returning to use.

 

The other 2 no thanks. 

 

The free agent starters are getting picked over quickly, if we were bargain bin shopping again all the good ones are going to be gone before Xmas.

It almost feels like a free roll. They should try one for sure.

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South Dakota Tom
Dec 11 2019 10:59 PM

Yet every year, there are a couple that remind us why non-guaranteed contracts with an invite are not bad things.  I'm not saying these guys won't get major league deals, but there will come a time of the year in early February when the "fall through the cracks" pitchers can be had.  We have both opportunity and some innings to give them in spring...and this is assuming we sign at least one more rotation lock, via trade or free agency.  Lots of internal candidates, I know, but we right now have 2 rotation locks for the start of the season, and 3 for the last 3/4 of the season.

 

Hope we don't get to Desperation Point (and don't think we will) but would love to know what Plans C-D-E-F and G are right now.

Nick, I love the way you are thinking here. But maybe not exactly the way you were thinking.

Via FA or trade, I have no doubt another arm will be added to the rotation to compete with Berrios and Odorizzi. And I'm NOT going to get in to that because there are about 6 other threads that deal with it and NOT what we are talking about here. Unless the budget gets blown up a bit by a BP signing or two...which I'm OK with...i am fully in favor of adding a flier/bounce back rotation option. But unless $ amounts continue to go nuts, I see more than a handful of guys out there that may be available for anywhere from $5-8M who are as good and better than your list here. (I get you are targeting cheap fliers who could surprise).

But I look at your list as being a couple of guys with high ceiling bullpen pieces. Moore and Smyly intrigue me the most, being LH. After so much injury and disappointment, isn't it the right time for either, or both, to consider a move to the pen? More appearances but limited IP, 1 or 2 on most days, and just throw their best stuff. This could/should be the perfect opportunity for these guys to re-invent themselves for their career.
    • mikelink45 and Dman like this
If they really replace the juiced ball with the playoff game as rumored, a lot of guys are going to have bounce back seasons. Good time to take a flyer on some.

Smyly has two things that could have been temporary issues -- injuries and the juiced ball. I can see how he could have huge upside as a low risk/high reward candidate.

Another guy MLBTR likes for a rebound is Tanner Roark. He's not on this list because he never crashed, and isn't cheap. But they point out he fell from a sub-3 ERA to 4-plus, despite a career high K/BB ratio last year, almost entirely from the long ball. He just got 2/24M from the Jays, which is not peanuts, but I would not be that surprised if he outperforms Bumgarner next year, if MadBum comes to the AL.
    • Dman and bobs like this
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ChrisKnutson
Dec 12 2019 08:13 AM

Nick, I love the way you are thinking here. But maybe not exactly the way you were thinking.
Via FA or trade, I have no doubt another arm will be added to the rotation to compete with Berrios and Odorizzi. And I'm NOT going to get in to that because there are about 6 other threads that deal with it and NOT what we are talking about here. Unless the budget gets blown up a bit by a BP signing or two...which I'm OK with...i am fully in favor of adding a flier/bounce back rotation option. But unless $ amounts continue to go nuts, I see more than a handful of guys out there that may be available for anywhere from $5-8M who are as good and better than your list here. (I get you are targeting cheap fliers who could surprise).
But I look at your list as being a couple of guys with high ceiling bullpen pieces. Moore and Smyly intrigue me the most, being LH. After so much injury and disappointment, isn't it the right time for either, or both, to consider a move to the pen? More appearances but limited IP, 1 or 2 on most days, and just throw their best stuff. This could/should be the perfect opportunity for these guys to re-invent themselves for their career.


I agree, although I’d probably put Perez ahead of Smyly and Moore due to familiarity and better stuff; assuming he’s even willing to move to the bullpen.
    • DocBauer likes this
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SpicyGarvSauce
Dec 12 2019 08:52 AM

 

I'd choose none. If that's the best they can do, might as well just roll with the internal options.

Exactly. How are any of these guys going to change the issues that face the Twins? The Twins don't need anymore 4th or 5th starters. I don't understand why that needs to be said again...and again, and again.

    • mikelink45 and jud6312 like this

If Johnson can work magic - use that on Thorpe, Dobnak, Smeltzer, Graterol or any other young arms.We do not need any more Martin Perez types.Use arms with potential and coach them until they are better than the reclamation projects. 

    • Mike Sixel, jud6312 and Battle ur tail off like this
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SpicyGarvSauce
Dec 12 2019 09:00 AM

 

If Johnson can work magic - use that on Thorpe, Dobnak, Smeltzer, Graterol or any other young arms.We do not need any more Martin Perez types.Use arms with potential and coach them until they are better than the reclamation projects. 

Exactly - Martin Perez isn't going to help this team. None of the guys mentioned above will do so, either.

 

    • mikelink45 and jud6312 like this
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bustedstuff88
Dec 12 2019 09:25 AM

 

Exactly. How are any of these guys going to change the issues that face the Twins? The Twins don't need anymore 4th or 5th starters. I don't understand why that needs to be said again...and again, and again.

 

Because the Twins fail to hit on big targets in free agency again, and again and again....

 

    • Doctor Wu likes this

I think he is indicating that these guys could be used in the five spot but you would hope they end up a mid rotation piece in that role instead of staying a five.These types of pickups are always a gamble because you can end up with a pitcher that is worse than a rookie number 5 as well. 

 

Not sure if now is the right time for the Twins to take that kind of gamble though as they are trying to improve or at least maintain a 101 win team.The Twins should be shooting for surer production not gambles.  

 

I do agree with others that if the coaches are good enough to improve those guys why can't they improve the young guys we already have?Poppen, Smeltzer, Thorpe, and Dobnak, have already done well at the AA levels and pretty well at the AAA levels as well. Aren't they a tweak or two away as well?Not to mention Graterol, Duran, and Balazovich who have heavy fastballs and are set to dominate in AA this coming year.Even Cole or Vallimont could surprise us this year.Let's work some magic with the some of the guys we have.

    • mikelink45 likes this

Blech.

    • jud6312 likes this
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SpicyGarvSauce
Dec 12 2019 10:13 AM

 

 

Which says all that needs to be said about this front office, ownership, etc.

 

If players don't see this place as desirable and a place to come to, where the heck do you think the issue starts?

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Nick Nelson
Dec 12 2019 02:41 PM

 

Exactly. How are any of these guys going to change the issues that face the Twins? The Twins don't need anymore 4th or 5th starters. I don't understand why that needs to be said again...and again, and again.

This is not being suggested as an alternative to signing higher-caliber starters. It's for a very specific usage; the Twins aren't going to sign Bumgarner to make 8 starts until Pineda is ready.

 

If you'd rather go with an internal option to fill that need (while understanding that one such player will probably occupy the fifth rotation spot full-time), then... ok. I'm not really sure I understand it. Those guys will be here anyway, they're not going anywhere. These free agents are upside plays carrying almost zero risk. All are 30 or below and clearly talented. If they don't work out, those internal options are still there to fall back on. If the internal options are your first choice... then what? 

 

It's pretty said that many people are so singularly obsessed with finding a premier top-of-rotation talent that we can't even discuss creative solutions for filling in the fringes. These are still discussions worth having. Every roster spot matters. 

    • SwainZag and DocBauer like this
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SpicyGarvSauce
Dec 12 2019 03:18 PM

 

This is not being suggested as an alternative to signing higher-caliber starters. It's for a very specific usage; the Twins aren't going to sign Bumgarner to make 8 starts until Pineda is ready.

 

If you'd rather go with an internal option to fill that need (while understanding that one such player will probably occupy the fifth rotation spot full-time), then... ok. I'm not really sure I understand it. Those guys will be here anyway, they're not going anywhere. These free agents are upside plays carrying almost zero risk. All are 30 or below and clearly talented. If they don't work out, those internal options are still there to fall back on. If the internal options are your first choice... then what? 

 

It's pretty said that many people are so singularly obsessed with finding a premier top-of-rotation talent that we can't even discuss creative solutions for filling in the fringes. These are still discussions worth having. Every roster spot matters. 

The Twins already have enough fringe options to fill those roster spots. Why waste time going after external options?

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Nick Nelson
Dec 12 2019 03:29 PM

 

The Twins already have enough fringe options to fill those roster spots. Why waste time going after external options?

Because any of these players, if they can stay healthy and/or iron out some issues, are vastly better than the internal options? 

 

Because any of these players, if they can stay healthy and/or iron out some issues, are vastly better than the internal options? 

 

but they could be worse, and in the meantime, you've likely given them all of Pineda's missed starts. You might miss out on giving a chance to a guy that turns out to be good right now, at no money......

 

Like Arraez last year, one of those guys might surprise us and turn out to be ready right away.....

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Nick Nelson
Dec 12 2019 03:45 PM

 

but they could be worse, and in the meantime, you've likely given them all of Pineda's missed starts. You might miss out on giving a chance to a guy that turns out to be good right now, at no money......

 

Like Arraez last year, one of those guys might surprise us and turn out to be ready right away.....

Those guys are still around. If the player you sign isn't up to the task (which presumably would be clear in spring training) you pull the plug and go with someone else. 

 

The Twins' impact starters (Graterol, Balazovic, Duran) are still a little ways away. I'm not concerned about robbing Smeltzer or Thorpe of opportunity for a few weeks. (Again, those guys will likely be competing with Dobnak for the fifth spot as is. You're telling me you want two of them in the rotation to start the year?)

    • Mike Sixel and dex8425 like this
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Nick Nelson
Dec 12 2019 03:49 PM

To the people who think I'm projecting some sort of super-theoretical, implausible upside... just take a look at the example referenced in the article. Anibal Sanchez has a 3.39 ERA in 300 IP since being signed under similar circumstances. 

    • SwainZag, DocBauer and In My La-Z-boy like this
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tony&rodney
Dec 12 2019 04:14 PM

It never hurts to sign a pitcher for a minor league deal with the understanding that a strong spring training gains each a spot on the roster or a release. This would be somewhat similar to the Sanchez tryout from a couple of years ago.

 

Those guys are still around. If the player you sign isn't up to the task (which presumably would be clear in spring training) you pull the plug and go with someone else. 

 

The Twins' impact starters (Graterol, Balazovic, Duran) are still a little ways away. I'm not concerned about robbing Smeltzer or Thorpe of opportunity for a few weeks. (Again, those guys will likely be competing with Dobnak for the fifth spot as is. You're telling me you want two of them in the rotation to start the year?)

 

No, but the Twins decided to sign Pineda.......and he comes with that baggage. 

 

IF they are willing to cut bait in spring training, I'm fine with this idea. I'm not fine with it if they stick with them to start the year, and they look anything like they did last year.

 

To the people who think I'm projecting some sort of super-theoretical, implausible upside... just take a look at the example referenced in the article. Anibal Sanchez has a 3.39 ERA in 300 IP since being signed under similar circumstances. 

 

And Martin Perez might not have a major league job. It cuts both ways.

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SpicyGarvSauce
Dec 12 2019 04:40 PM

 

To the people who think I'm projecting some sort of super-theoretical, implausible upside... just take a look at the example referenced in the article. Anibal Sanchez has a 3.39 ERA in 300 IP since being signed under similar circumstances. 

One.

 

One example of it working out. That is it.